Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Diary of a store

I recently came upon a listserv, ostensibly about a movie theater, which had a thread about the closure of a neighborhood video store, designated here as VS.
There were a number of comments of sorrow:

I saw a piece on the local news channel that VS is closing. They said they did not have enough business. I don't think we can persuade them to stay open.
Even though I was a member, they somehow weren't on my radar screen and I would forget to go there.
I bet the Internet video businesses took a bite of their profits, too.


There were also comments about the competition from Netflix, Blockbuster, and video on demand. Then, there were more nuanced responses:

I was in the store this past weekend returning 2 movies we rented and asked why VS was closing. The owner of the store mentioned his disappointment in our community, stating that there are over 10,000 households in our zip code alone and
he had only 300 active memberships. He thanked me for being a member of his store, supporting his local business and for not supporting the big boxes, but he thought that many in our neighborhood drive right by his store on their way to the
Hollywood/Blockbuster stores.

The next day I was walking the dog and noticed that his signage could be better (he only has a small sign inside the window) and that the building he rents is in
disrepair (awful storefront, leaky roof, poor access/no accessibility for the disabled, etc.) Quite frankly, I can see why he'd want to close his doors because of the above mentioned reasons, but I hope he would reconsider if more support could be found. If even half of the households in our ZIP code would rent one movie per month
for a mere $4, he'd be in great shape. I wish more of us would support this and other businesses on our main street which would attract more businesses and make our neighborhood more appealing to more people! We usually have an event that raises awareness of our local businesses by our residents, but if VS closes at the end of April, we will be looking at yet another empty storefront.

I'm all for inquiring with VS on how to help them and to encourage marketing efforts to our neighborhood and perhaps pressure could be put on the property owner for improving his building/storefront and lowering the floor in his building to make
it accessible to all.


Another response:

On a similar note, some businesses are simply being forced to change with the times a little faster than others to keep up with the competition. In-store film discussion groups, theme promotions that tie reading lists from a writers' institute with selected movies, and other benefits that are locally-based and help to build community might draw some interest and excitement and serve to attract NetFlix subscribers This is just a general comment as I am not familiar at all with what has been tried already at VS, and I can only imagine how difficult it is to run a small
business these days.


Yet another reply:

I was very excited when VS moved to our neighborhood. I like to support local merchants, and I liked the fact that they offered alternative DVD fare. They have an excellent foreign film collection, and we have tried to patronize them regularly. However, the owner's analysis for his lack of business is at least partly incorrect. One of the reasons the business is not supported by the community is not necessarily a predilection for big box video stores, but because the store is a dump. Why mince words here? Go to Blockbuster. It's clean, well-lighted, well-organized. VS is shabby and run-down. I think that most consumers want and deserve better, and are going to avoid stores like this.

In fact, this is a chronic problem throughout the city. For example, down the street is a liquor shop where the owner hasn't made an improvement in at least 12 years; the store is cramped, and completely disorganized. Whatever charm the informality once had is long gone. The space next door, which could perhaps be used to expand, is papered over, and at night they draw down a hideous metal screen. Contrast this store with [another liquor store]. We should expect and demand high standards of service from locally-owned independent businesses. It is possible. But VS and other businesses are failing because they fail to provide even reasonable standards of service. We deserve better, and the merchants need to hear this.


Yet another respondent had thought that when VS moved from its previous location, it had gone out of business, since the client had been dropped from the store's mailing list, though he had not moved.

I note all of this because I feel that it's probably all too common in retail and service entities. The place may have found the right niche market, may have a good selection and are in the right area, but the appearance, including cleanliness, signage and accessibility, can be a big turn off.

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