We’re told the economic recovery is gaining pace, but some businesses are still finding it hard to keep their footing in this changed economic landscape. WNPR’s Harriet Jones reports on one high profile business failure in Connecticut this week.
The tills are ringing briskly at North Cove Outfitters in Old Saybrook, but that’s because bargains are flying off the shelves in a liquidation sale. Regular customer Mike Campbell summed up the mood.
“Totally surprised. My wife saw it on the news last night that it was closing down. And we were like, oh my gosh, I can’t believe it – it’s been there for so long, and we had no idea it was having such a rough time. We were kind of shocked.”
“We’re in the outdoor business and we sell stuff for people who want to go outdoors.”
North Cove’s co-owner, Norman Cavallaro founded this store 24 years ago with his friend Ed Carney. He says after weathering the recession, the store’s final downfall has been a record-breaking mild winter.
“When it’s 60 degrees and people are wearing shorts and sandals in the store, it’s hard to convince them they need a new winter coat or a new sweater.”
He says their plight is reflective of the outdoor gear industry in general. Some companies have been reporting outerwear sales down this winter by almost 70 percent.
“One of my reps who’s been calling on us since before we opened, he says I’m hearing words from retailers mouths that I’ve never heard, never thought I was going to hear.”
Cavallaro says the hardest thing he and Carney had to face in deciding to close was telling their 40 staff members.
“Yeah, toughest thing I’ve ever had to do. The senior staff average length of employment is 12, 13, 14 years, something like that. We know these people, we know their husbands, we know their wives, we know their kids.”
So is this closure of a well-established business an indication that the economic downturn still has some bite, even in a Connecticut that is adding back jobs, and last year had grew its economy faster than the nation as a whole?
“Our industry is dealing with some very tough times, trying to crawl back in an economy that was devastating over the last three or four years.”
Tim Phelan of the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association says retail in general is still in a delicate position. He says the increase in the sales tax in 2011 took its toll.
“We sort of feel like we took our lumps last year. We lost the clothing exemption allowance, the increase in the overall rate went up, the imposition of a luxury tax. And we’re hoping it doesn’t happen to us again this year.”
Phelan says he believes now the legislature does understand the need to hold the line on taxes after last year’s deficit-busting package. But brick and mortar stores face a still-shifting economic landscape. Economist Don Klepper Smith of Datacore Partners says Connecticut’s retailers are having to fight harder for a limited pool of consumer dollars
“More and more people are going to the Internet to get proper pricing. And a lot of your bricks and mortar operations are competing with these Internet retailers – they have more overhead, they have to charge more, so more and more people are going to the Internet. You know, it says to me that we’re probably going to see more changes as we move through 2012.”
So even a return of elusive consumer confidence may not benefit all retailers equally in an industry undergoing profound change.
For WNPR, I'm Harriet Jones.