2014-04-24 / Opinion

EDITORIAL

Uncertainty the Only Certainty

For two long-time, local Newport retailers, cruel April marked the end of an era. First, there was the news that Potter & Co., opened in 1907 as a men’s clothing store at 172 Thames Street by Louis Potter and Herman Werner, could close by year’s end.

Then this week, we learned that the last independent pharmacy on Aquidneck Island–Broadway’s Newport Prescription Center, operating for 31 years– would close on Friday, April 25 and reopen just three days later as a CVS Pharmacy.

The only certainty in retailing, it seems, is uncertainty.

In these days of online shopping and giant chain operations, it seems that running a local retail store of any kind can be like running against the wind. Make that a gale.

That is especially the case in Newport, where prosperous summers can be like a land rush and winters, for those shopkeepers who remain open, may often resemble a deep freeze. And then, along with daffodils, spring begets a new roster of retail shops determined to give Newport a try.

Our knee-jerk inclination, upon hearing this kind of news, is of course to lament how unfairly the passage of time eventually treats these proud, long-standing retailers.

But let’s face it, in 2014 that’s not real.

Chafee Emory, the current Potter & Co. owner, has said that her Thames Street rent has become just too much. Not that her rent is unfair. It's just that “international chains with deeper pockets” could drive up rents or make it difficult for independents to offer competitive prices.

“The Internet is feeding the feeling that we can fit more and more into our day,” Emory said. “So, when you need a new jacket, pair of shoes, or new couch, the Internet is easy and convenient or at times the only option. Yet, at the same time, customers and friends are saddened by empty store fronts or seeing an endless row of the same shops you would see in a mall.”

New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick would probably just shrug and say, “It is what it is.”

All over America, in recent years, people have seen their local drug stores replaced by one national pharmacy chain or another. The local variety store, where your mother sent you for a dozen eggs, a quart of milk, or a pound of sliced ham, was blown away years ago by one giant grocery chain or another.

And one person’s tears at the loss of a bygone era are another’s broad smile for the ability to shop at home online (long after most retailers have closed), or discover a hard-to-find Mother’s Day gift at Walmart or Kohl’s.

Here in Newport, where we tend to appreciate more than others the beauty and value of old homes and other artifacts, our hearts may bleed just a bit more when long-venerated retail institutions such as Potter & Co. or the Newport Prescription Center cease to exist.

But just a short distance down the bricks from Potter & Co., another store, Coldwater Creek, a large national retail operation selling women’s clothing and accessories, has gone bankrupt. The Newport store’s inventory will be liquidated sometime in May. And with that, the Coldwater Creek doors there and elsewhere in the United States will close for good. Local sales associates, some of them our friends and neighbors, will lose their jobs.

Will we lament that reality as much as the others?

If not, we should.

For the only certainty in retailing—be it very big or very small—is uncertainty.

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