Jaffrey downtown hit with 3 closures
ECONOMY: Merry Berry recently shut down operations; Mindfull Books and Elaine’s Antiques will close in weeks ahead
Mindfull Books and Ephemera Owner John Sepe discusses the decision to close his bookstore in downtown Jaffrey.
(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
JAFFREY — An economic downturn paired with low turnout from the Monadnock region’s shoppers has created an uncertain economic environment for small business owners in the heart of Jaffrey’s downtown. In a town with a handful of vacant store fronts, news that Jaffrey will lose two more of its private, locally owned businesses — Mindfull Books and Ephemera and Elaine’s Antiques and Collectibles — early next year has the community questioning what can be done to both retain and attract businesses on Main Street.
Merry Berry Frozen Yogurt Cafe, which opened its doors at 4 Stratton Road in February, has also closed shop, after the building was recently sold to Lab’n Lager of Keene. Lab’n Lager, a restaurant and entertainment lounge, is currently located on Main Street in Keene. It is uncertain at the time whether Merry Berry co-owners Paul Somero and Jonathan Aho, both of New Ipswich, will reopen the cafe elsewhere in Jaffrey or pursue an out-of-town location, according to Becky Newton of the Jaffrey Chamber of Commerce.
Mindfull Books, which sells used books, ephemera, art and other collectibles, opened nearly seven years ago at its location on 29 Main Street. Events from music to poetry, psychic readings to classes, as well as rental and worship space at Mindfull Books have drawn thousands to the town over the years with nearly 200 such events held annually, said owner John Sepe in an interview with the Ledger-Transcript on Thursday.
But faced with an uncertain economic future, Sepe said he and his wife, Martha Dawson, can no longer keep Mindfull afloat. The bookstore and The Listening Room will close on January 2, with the New Year’s Day Psychic Faire on Jan. 1 marking the shop’s last event.
While Sepe said he hopes to find another venue in town for The Listening Room, he has not made any decisions at this time about how or where future music events and poetry readings could be held. This weekend, The Listening Room will present three full nights of music Friday, Saturday and Sunday for its “A Gala Music Weekend Benefit,” which will feature live performances from soloists, duos, trios and bands. A donation of $10 is requested and will benefit The Listening Room.
The decision to close Mindfull Books was purely an economic one, Sepe said: “We are having our best year ever, but we can’t catch up on the last four. Even though you are growing and running a great business you have to look at the future and say, ‘What if it is a horrible winter, too?’”
The national economic downturn in 2007, and the most recent recession hurt small businesses not just in Jaffrey, but nationwide, Sepe said. The town’s cancellation of the 23rd Annual Jaffrey Festival of Fireworks in August as a result of three anonymous letters threatening mass violence on festival goers also had a significant impact on revenue, Sepe added.
“I truly do believe in this town,” he said. “If I had my way, I wouldn’t take this [shop] away from it.”
Sepe, who started Jaffrey is Cool — an online community forum for Jaffrey businesses, organizations and residents to list events and happenings — in May 2011, said promoting downtown and buying locally is vital to the town’s economic present and future. As customers grapple with how to get the most for their dollar in a difficult economy, Sepe said smaller businesses are having a tough time competing with the larger retail outlets and box stores, which are often one-stop shops for people.
Chloe’s Closet, Fawn’d Memories, Lola’s, Vintage Rose, Grand Finale, The Jaffrey Bible House and Mountain Light Cafe and Farmstand are just a few of the small businesses that have either relocated or closed their doors in Jaffrey during the past few years.
“All those shops were working together to attract customers,” Sepe said. “As you start to lose these stores one by one, you lose a pulse.”
Owner of Elaine’s Antiques, Elaine Henderson told the Ledger-Transcript on Friday that after almost 10 years she will be closing her antique business on Main Street. “I’m going to stay in business through the holidays and into 2013 until I feel the time is right to close the door for good,” she said.
Henderson, who recently became certified in Reiki Master — a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing — and is a certified hypnotist, said she is at a time in her life where she is ready for a career change.
“The support that I’ve been given by the community is insufficient to staying open,” she said. “It has assisted me in my decision to transition at this time.”
A retired teacher, Henderson and her husband moved to the area year-round in 2002 and had been summer residents since 1996. Henderson had been doing antique sales on the side in New Jersey and Antrim since 1990, but the opening of Elaine’s Antiques allowed her the opportunity to pursue the business full-time. She sells glass, vintage costume jewelry and china pieces.
While tourism has supported her business throughout the years, Henderson agreed with Sepe that there needs to be greater awareness about the importance of shopping locally. “Although people like to have downtown Jaffrey storefronts full, there is no way that we as business owners can remain here if people exclusively go out of town to make their purchases,” Henderson said.
Despite the economic challenges she’s faced, Henderson said she will never regret choosing Jaffrey to open Elaine’s Antiques. She explained that the town was a perfect fit for her and that she found the people incredibly welcoming.
As she moves on to her next career endeavor, Henderson said she is doing so with both “a glad and a heavy heart.”
Former Executive Director of TEAM Jaffrey Kathy Batchelder said Monday that the number of empty storefronts in town seems to be growing in recent months and that the reality is “a little bit scary.” The last couple of years have been particularly difficult for small business owners, Batchelder said, noting that the economy has been the greatest variable.
“I think that part of the issue, too, is that people don’t shop locally,” she said. “The concept has been lost over the years as shopping malls and boxed stores, where people can find almost anything, have become more popular.”
An appreciation for secondhand and antique merchandise has also decreased among everyday shoppers, Batchelder said. “If it is not new, bright and shiny, the thought is it’s not going to be appreciated. We don’t seem to value the things that have a history attached to them like we once did.”
The question of how to change that mentality is one that Batchelder said the town continues to struggle with. Jaffrey has many unique assets, but that it needs to act to brand itself better and communicate to people those special qualities.
Businesses that have a specific clientele, such as Country Bridals and Formal Wear, have been successful, Batchelder said. She added that the town is a perfect place for up-incoming artists to get their start, too, and perhaps there are opportunities to drawn them in.
Marie Cassady, who took over as the interim executive director of TEAM Jaffrey this summer, wrote in an email to the Ledger-Transcript on Saturday that aiding potential and current business owners with marketing and promotion, as well as continuing to offer events that draw people downtown are crucial to Jaffrey’s economic future. She said it is important to remind the community that shopping locally benefits the town overall.
“Our goal is for Jaffrey’s downtown to be a vibrant center that is supported by community and visitors, and we are working towards that goal,” Cassady said. “While office space usage has remained consistent and the chain stores and restaurants are doing OK, the challenge has been local retail and restaurants.”
The tough economy, Cassady said, has resulted in people spending less and, when they do spend, they look for bargain prices. “It is impossible for a local vendor to compete with those prices,” she said.
TEAM Jaffrey, the Jaffrey Chamber of Commerce, and town’s Economic Development Committee are expected to meet soon to began working toward a more concrete plan about how to provide greater support to local business owners.
Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228 or firstname.lastname@example.org. She’s on Twitter at @alyssadandrea.