After nine years in Hillsborough, will shut its doors Jan. 31, another victim of declining sales and the economic downturn.
“Business is down 50 percent,” Owner Rick Grossman said. “It’s the economy. Internet sales too. Automatically, people save 7 percent with the lack of sales tax. Government officials have been silent on that.
“I can’t fault people for wanting to save money, and, in this economy, people have needed to save their money,” he added. “People are out of work. They can’t spend as much.”
Like many retailers, Learning Express has seen costs rise at the same time as its sales dropped, and an increase in competition from Target, Barnes and Noble and other stores. Still, Grossman avoided raising prices at his Route 206 store.
“I’ve swallowed that,” he said. “I have not raised prices. I’ve actually lowered prices.”
Kids’ shifting tastes, and move from games, toys and other traditional pastimes, further hurt the retailer, he said. Instead of dolls, action figures, science kits and other items toy stores typically sell, children want electronic entertainment—something the store does not sell.
“We also have the issues of changing taste,” Grossman said. “Young kids want iPods and iPads instead of toys.
Grossman opened the business after spending several years in the corporate world and in other professions. His Learning Express franchise fulfilled his need to be creative, while the Hillsborough location met his desire to work near his Bridgewater home.
“It just seemed to meet a lot of needs,” he said. “It wasn’t just a business that made money. It gave joy. It didn’t seem to take advantage. It allowed me to give back.
“I’m a little on the quirky side and it allowed me to bring out my personality and not have to wear a tie,” he added.”
When sales dropped, Grossman tried to increase sales through coupons, marketing, events, appeals to customer loyalty and small business shopping—but none took off, he said. Then, he began to investigate selling the store, moving it or trying to negotiate lower rent with his landlord. Those options also left him empty-handed.
“I looked at everything, including bankruptcy,” he said. “I realized bankruptcy would only mean I would be living out of my car. Closing was the only option I could get. It’s a sad thing.”
The store reflected its customers—and Grossman’s—personality, often stocking items residents could not find in other shops, he said. The interactive and infusion of the local color are among the parts of his job he’ll miss most.
“You could really tell everything in the store from the personality of the people here,” Grossman said. “We kept the products that were different. We knew our customers. It was very personal.”
Though he only announced the closing last week, he’s seen an influx of his regular customers, many who can’t believe the favorite store will close.
“It’s a time of very mixed feelings,” he said. “It’s alleviating a great weight off my shoulders. At the same time, it’s very, very sad.
“It’s like the Joni Mitchell lyric,” he added. “ ‘You don’t know what you got till it’s gone.’”