Thursday, July 20, 2017

General stores in rural New England are closing because of new competition from dollar chains

This store closed because of new competition.
(Photo by Ben Conant, Monadnock Ledger-Transcript)
All over New England, small-town general stores are struggling or closing, Jennifer Levitz reports for The Wall Street Journal. The Francestown Village Store in New Hampshire, which sold "everything from fresh-baked bread and live fishing bait to winter hats and groceries while offering a place where residents could gather and gossip" for 203 years, closed July 6; its owners said new competition is the main reason such stores are closing.

Chain stores such as Dollar General, which has expanded rapidly in rural areas all over the U.S. in recent years, have buying power that gives them a wide selection, national name brands and prices that make it hard for mom-and-pop stores to compete. Increased online shopping is also siphoning general-store shoppers away, and small-town residents who increasingly commute to cities may stop at larger grocery stores on their way home, Levitz reports.

Jack Garvin, chairman of the Vermont Alliance of Independent Country Stores, told Levitz that the state is losing three or four general stores a year, "and is down to about 80 from more than 100 a decade ago," she writes. "Along with more competition, aging owners who retire is another factor in the decline, he said."

Some New Englanders are trying to save local general stores, saying that they're important to towns. In Putney, Vermont, the local historical society raised money and took over the local general store to keep it from closing. In other places, local individuals are stepping up to buy struggling stores. Some stores are doing well by offering new items such as craft beer or prepared foods, and some are marketing themselves as tourist attractions.

The Village Store “really felt like a community hub where people gathered, and there are not very many places like that anymore,” Francestown resident Maureen Troy told Levitz. “In rural towns, people live far apart and it can be lonely almost if you don’t have that social interaction.”

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