NEW JERSEY – One of my favorite movies of all time is, You’ve Got Mail, with the quintessentially convincing onscreen smitten couple, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Except in this movie, they can’t stand each other at face value, though cupid is busy working behind the scenes, as these two business rivals are having a chat room courtship under alias, unbeknownst to each other.
Why are they not fond of one another? Meg’s character Kathleen actually knows Tom’s character Joe, because he has been plotting to take out Kathleen’s business, The Shop Around The Corner, a niche in New York City that Kathleen’s mother had previously run until her death from illness. Kathleen is a female book connoisseur with a specialty for children’s books. Her shop is whimsically decorated for all holidays and seasons, and Kathleen relishes in story hours in the rear of her store, with the local children around the neighborhood. Her employees are versed in books as enthusiastically as she is, to the point that after her shop’s demise, her employee George works at Joe’s mega store, Fox Books, and holds a knowledge that Joe equated to a PhD in children’s literature.
Kathleen fights Joe ardently to keep a footing in her neighborhood, while Joe viewed her store as a pesky, independent nuisance when his store opened its mega doors around the corner from hers.
Kathleen launches a public campaign against Fox Books, representing the indie stores versus the big box stores. At first, business is thriving for her around Christmas, until Kathleen sees the signs, including patrons walking by her store as they trudge through the snow, carrying Fox Book bags, while she decorates her Christmas tree in her store alone.
Another poignant scene is when she actually closes her doors in finale, envisioning she and her mother spinning around in the corner many years prior when she was a little girl, and the door’s bell jingles one last time as she locks the door behind her.
Following the closure of her store, Joe begins to melt the ice between he and an ill Kathleen. He visits her with flowers, and the two “break bread” about Joe’s business philosophies, and he advises her not to take his putting her out of business personally.
“It wasn’t personal,” Joe told her, about his aggressive strategy to eliminate The Shop Around The Corner.
Kathleen expresses how sick she is of hearing how things are no longer considered personal.
“All it means,” Kathleen replied, “is it wasn’t personal to you. But it was personal to me. It’s personal to a lot of people. What is so wrong with being personal anyway?”
“Uh…nothing,” he stammers.
“Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal,” she replied.
So to my point…we need to remember it’s personal to us as well and to our communities when a Fox Books plunges a Shop Around The Corner into oblivion, and our local shops fade away, becoming a distant memory.
I can remember a few from childhood that are no longer here, such as a the little Happy Family Gift Shop in Sparta, Helen’s Collectibles (Sparta and then Jefferson), the Ben Franklin by my grandmother’s, Abigail’s in Newton, and the many mom and pop department stores around the area.
What about restaurants like The Gibson Girl in Sparta, where I also served up ice cream as an employee for a stint when I was a teen? Or Ingraham’s Restaurant in Hampton, where you could take in a full savory Prime Rib Dinner special every Wednesday night, from soup or salad to dessert, for a reasonable price? Or my favorite Eagan’s Restaurant in North Arlington, a family favorite for several generations of my family. The restaurant, which opened in the 1930s, was razed to make way for a CVS. And since, I have found French Dip Sandwiches that rival Eagan’s, yet still don’t come close.
Memories gone, in one fell swoop…as the song states, “They paved paradise to put up a parking lot.”
Ingraham’s is now a parking lot…well, actually a driveway leading to Lowe’s..which outmoded several of our local hardware and appliance stores.
And they call this progress?
What has triggered my nostalgia for the stores of yesteryear is my reporting of a few recent business closures, including Nature’s Cove Pet Center yesterday, because this pet store equivalent of The Shop Around The Corner, has been feeling the effects of the Fox Books version of the giant, PetSmart, which opened up in the same strip mall. This is after 17 years in the community.
Though I didn’t report on it, there’s also Garlic & Oil in Sparta that plans to shut its doors at the end of this month after 14 years. The owner’s reason for closure was due to a 28% increase in her rent…the owner enjoyed a lease-free relationship with her landlord, and he accepted a higher offer, while offering a right of first refusal type of deal to match the offer. Garlic & Oil declined the offer. Like Nature’s Cove, Garlic & Oil’s Facebook fans were traumatized, as the shops made the announcements, and now have emptied, even offering fixtures for sale.
Both Nature’s Cove and Garlic & Oil have expressed the friendships forged throughout the years, through the many seasons of their lives and their customers’ lives.
Garlic & Oil is a store that I visited a few times, and this purveyor of gourmet goods was a favorite of one of my family members, who shopped there regularly. I’ve heard so many positive things about Kathryn over the years, I feel like I know her myself.
Who can say that, customer or merchant, about dealing with a big box store? When buying gourmet items, for example at Home Goods, Marshall’s, or Bed, Bath and Beyond, do we become all warm and fuzzy about our purchases? What about if we have a question? Is there someone who can answer questions about the specifics of any of the brands on the shelf, like a Garlic & Oil representative could?
There is such a difference when you deal with an independent merchant that goes beyond making a living. Your clients become your family. Your business reflects you, and your heart. They are intrinsically intertwined.
Another example are the local coffee establishments…the paradox in You’ve Got Mail, is that Kathleen and Joe each cross paths at Starbucks on a regular basis, though they don’t realize it. Yes, Shop Around The Corner Kathleen enjoying her cup of Joe at the coffee giant (no pun intended with the Joe she was falling in love with). Why? Was The Shop Around The Corner coffee house obliterated in place of the giant? Or was she sucked into the mentality that she needed her coffee from one of these chains?
Relationships are built over a steaming cup of coffee not typically in Starbucks or Dunkin, but in The Table in Newton, Cloveberry in Sparta, Savour in Andover Township, The Bodhi Tree in Franklin, and many other great local coffee houses throughout the county.
Recently, The Bodhi Tree decided to close, to relocate to another location within Franklin. We reported on the story, and it turns out it is a bigger and better location they are heading to, and the reopening date is anticipated for later this fall. Fans of the coffee shop have been heartbroken, as its become a cornerstone in the community, in its year of existence. Like Garlic & Oil, and Nature’s Cove, the owners too dealt with teary eyes in the final day.
The space that local businesses occupy, bring about a wistfulness, where memories are made…it becomes more than a space, there is a history that develops.
As a little girl, the many different businesses, from the butcher, to the fish market, to the baker, to the office supply store, to the clothing store, to the Ben Franklin, to the milk man (who faded away and all that remained was my grandmother’s silver cooler near the back door of her home), ignited a sense of wonder and adventure as we stepped through the thresholds of these establishments. How many of us remember picking up unusual goods and trinkets at these places?
It’s become commonplace for small businesses to become gobbled up in the circle of life. From banks to beauty salons to supermarkets, the big fish eats the smaller ones then grows. This is the nature of business. We exist in a competitive economy. Yet, at the same time when we are only left with worldwide banks on every street corner, chain haircutters that offer a mediocre $5 buzz cut, PetSmarts, Target, Staples, Walmart, Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee slid across the counter by an unknown person who may not be working the next time you’re there, and dinner houses such as Applebee’s serving up minute steaks in place of the Ingraham’s Prime Rib dinners hanging off the plate…something’s wrong with this picture.
We are now looking at monopolies. It’s honestly bordering on Communism in some ways. And our choices become limiting and boring…do I go to Walmart or Staples to buy a notebook? Well, most of the time now, I choose one of the two, because there is no other choice. Why can’t a little specialty store have the same ability to sell me a notebook and not have Goliath trample our sale? What happened to the land of opportunity?
That sense of a voyage and wonder is now gone from exploring the nooks and crannies of an individual store, in place of overwhelming shelves stacked with Made in China monotony.
Our downtown merchants are beginning to experience a resurgence, slowly but surely, and we need to continue to foster the arrival of new local merchants to grow our downtowns.
I feel sad for our nation’s children overall, and mine, who don’t get to experience that sweet anticipation every time they step into a shop. What kind of treasures can they find in a shop with so many big brand items that are so commonplace? It’s so refreshing to step into a small business and browse for candy, jewelry, clothing, pet supplies, handcrafted items, and more, rather than walking into a warehouse-sized structure to shop, or buying online.
Our society moves at a quick pace, and people, including me, are always in the great rush. Let’s get it all done at once, all under one roof.
When a local business closes in place of an everything but the kitchen sink big box store, everyone hurts. It’s a corner of our community that disappears. It’s a lifestyle that leaves. It’s a family made of friends that fractures.
We need to get mad and we need to take this personally.
It’s rare to have relationships built in a big box store, where there’s high turnover, people working in different shifts, and that opportunity not to make a personal connection.
We are losing out when we are brainwashed that we are winning.
With a local merchant, you become a part of each other’s life. It’s meaningful. And it’s about caring.
Of course, there’s also the financial factor. What chain stores don’t offer is the ability to give back to one’s community. Not saying they don’t do fundraisers and help out in the community from time to time, but they do. Of course, there is some revenue back in the community with a big box coming to town…at the same time, where are the corporate headquarters? If they are headquartered in your town, obviously one thing, and there are fiscal benefits (though some are not pleased by the sprawl of that business). Most times though the money makes another community rich. Many times, the infrastructure is taxed in towns where the national retailers arrive, and town resources, which can sometimes outweigh the benefits of the ratables.
But small businesses give their everything typically back into the community and are involved. They have a commitment to a community and its wellness. They patronize other local merchants and foster a spirit of helping one another.We as patrons need to do the same.
You also pay in the pricing, because often times, mom and pop stores can sell you quality items at a competitive and lesser price than the national chains. The big boxes have us fooled that we’ll only see a “rollback” in pricing and best deal with them…usually a myth. Think of how much the items cost to ship to our area from their distribution center, and all sorts of charges are tacked on. That’s not typical for sustainable and local businesses.
Big boxes wipe out small businesses, which in turn yields more competition for jobs, and unemployment. And when there is employment, many times, it’s a minimum wage job, that end up placing families at risk.
But then, there’s a taxation on our freedom…freedom to compete in a free-market economy, which in turn can lead to monopolies. Some may say that there are more choices with big box stores and large dinner house chain restaurants or fast food joints. But some things are lost…a cookie cutter selection and mentality replaces individuality.
On My Mind: I urge you to please shop and dine local whenever and as much as you can. Make keeping your community alive personal for all of us…in the present…and for our citizens of the future. Save The Shops Around The Corner in your community.
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