Today was a tough one. For eleven hours I've tried to be polite to people coming into my shop. I don't feel it’s best to pounce on them and be pushy, yet I greet everyone with a smile or a hello, mention I'm available when they are ready, feel free to ask any questions, etc. Few have responded; some with a blank stare or grunt; some quick to point out they aren't going to buy anything, just look; several almost seem offended I approached them. Ultimately a large number leave after strolling through as if this was a museum, often claiming an easy excuse like the heat or time of day. Many however do note that this is just like the candy shop of their childhood, they reminisce and point out familiar treats with excitement. But they don't wish to buy here - they'll hold out and find a dollar store nearby they say.
Some have stated my worst fear; that they will wait till tonight when they reach the mega-chain store of choice. Bright, glitzy, neon….those stores are all these things and more; larger, more expensive, offering a buffet of made in China candies. Their employees won't know the difference between two different varieties of chocolates, or the legend of salt water taffy that I keep copies of to pass out to my curious smaller customers. They won't offer a sample of a very taste-specific licorice and discuss the flavors with someone searching for a favorite variety their parents used to buy them years ago, maybe in a tiny shop like mine.
But they will go there to these neon castles which are on every corner, and which in the last few years have crushed every independent in town except mine. Out of more than a dozen small and locally owned shops this is the final stand. Sometimes I wonder if there is anything that could elevate my small business to the “corporate glamour” level these people seem to want - even if there was, it's unlikely I'd be able to pull it off. We ARE the definition of "mom and pop" and what so many used to love and welcome, but to an ever-growing number of people are we perhaps turning into plain or outdated, a relic from the past?
A decade ago it seemed everyone wanted to be here; loved the shop, the history, the atmosphere and the products, but I don't think those things are a selling point anymore. It’s not the familiar layout of a chain store, a reassuringly giant place where no one knows your name. I can't ever complete with mega-mall big box monstrosities; I just never thought that is all people would want.
P.S. After the summer I aggressively worked to update a number of things; lighting, product selection, signage, layout and more; all things I'd been trying to keep up with each year. It's important to note that when a small business has primarily one person in charge that sometimes your vision may not be good enough. I'm not sure that a sole proprietor is the best at seeing "different" or "fresh & new" or "out of the box" when it's just one perspective. So maybe I did fall prey to that and failed to change and grow enough? The following year did bring an increase in positive reactions from many visitors but due to poor management and landlord issues the shopping center declined.
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