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Mom, pop stores battle corporate chains for customers

Once upon a time, there was a small mom-and-pop shop which prospered until a chain store moved in next door. Slowly, business drained from the smaller shop and increased in the chain store. With corporate competition increasing, can privately owned businesses survive in the new millennium? Teens looking for one-of-a-kind items may find specialty items harder to locate.

Fresno’s Tower District is among the many locations California that have traditionally bucked the chain-store mentality. However, like the disappearing of family farms, the Tower District is losing some of its locally owned shops to chain stores.

“I am closing my book store entirely,” David Scudder, owner of D.L. Scudder’s Used Bookstore in Tower, said. “Business has dropped 40% since Riverpark opened. It takes a lot of money to grow a small business, and I just don’t have that anymore since the Tower District landlord raised the rent.”

With the increase in rent prices, tenants face the challenge of paying extra for shop space as the number of customer’s drops. With ethnic restaurants, bookstores, gifts shops, antique dealers, thrift outlets, health and other specialty shops, the Tower has mimicked other revival districts across California and the nation to lure customers away from large corporate shopping centers.

“I personally have been in business for seven and-a-half years though the store itself has been here over 30,” Scudder said. “There is an older lady that comes here and she says she has been shopping in here since she was a teenager in the ’70s!”

In a letter to the editor printed in The Fresno Bee on Nov. 19, 2003, Karen Harlow, owner of Karen’s Keepsakes in the Tower District, expressed her opinion about the increasing rent rates for shop owners.

“When landlords decide to inflate rents and don’t adequately maintain their properties, they naturally lose tenants, even long-term ones like Scudders’ Books,” Harlow said. “However, when landlords like mine maintain their properties and charge reasonable rates, there are few losses of longtime tenants.”

Scudders’ Bookstore will be closing its doors after 30 years in business at the end of November.

As Fresno built northward, an upscale shopping district was expanded in that direction as well and Riverpark was created. A greater percent of the population spends more shopping time now on the north side of town.

“It’s nice to shop at the bigger bookstores because they have a larger selection,” Jesse Madsen, ’05, said. “But I think the mom-and-pop stores have a better environment and better prices. Local store owners are friendlier and care about their customers.””

Often small, local shops offer personal service and are willing to find one-of-a-kind items. Others find a niche by their quality shopping or dining experience. For example, The Feather’s November article “”Historic Mammoth Orange serves Main Street America”” is an example of a small local restaurant finding a niche alongside Highway 99 fast food chains.

“”I go down to the Tower District to shop at Retro Rag (vintage clothes) and Ancient Pathways (thread and yarn) because there is nothing like them in North Fresno,”” Suzie Falk, ’06, said. “”The yarn store owner always takes the time to help me figure out my knitting projects. I could never get that kind of attention at a large chain store.””

However, not all competition comes from chain stores. Barnes & Noble and Borders do not appear to be the only businesses taking away customers from the smaller bookstores.

“Barnes & Noble and Borders were really just fellow businesses with general interests,” Scudder said. “People buy new books just as much as used ones so I didn’t consider them competition. Although, another local used bookstore, Friends of the Library, gets books donated to them and are able to sell them at cheaper prices. I just can’t compete with that.”

The larger chain stores often attract more attention from their wide selections and convenience than the smaller shops.

The disappearance of mom-and-pop locations was portrayed in the 1998 movie, You’ve Got Mail, starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.

Small children’s bookshop owner Kathleen Kelly (Ryan) commented of a recently opened Fox Books superstore in the movie, “It’s big, impersonal, overstocked, and full of ignorant sales people.” As the movie continues, Kelly is forced to close down her store because she cannot compete with the chain store.

“I prefer shopping at the bigger book stores because they have wider selections of books that are easier to find,” Jennifer Schmidt, ’06, said. “Also, the prices are sometimes cheaper. Although, after I watched the movie You’ve Got Mail, I sometimes consider going to the smaller mom-and-pop shops instead of the larger ones.”

Until closing day, D.L. Scudders Bookstore is open Mondays from 10:30 A.M. – 6 P.M. and Tuesdays – Saturdays from 10:30 A.M. – 9 P.M. The store is located at 608 E. Olive Ave.

For more information on other stores closing in Tower, go to www.fresnobee.com. Go to the archives, click on the back issues link and request the article “Saying Goodbye” written by Joan Obra on Nov.12.” “Madeline Ervin, Photographer” “David Scudder’s hobby is looking for books with a copywrite that predate 1830. However, he is shutting the doors of his small bookshop shop on Nov. 30 to due rent price increases and slow business.” “Madeline Ervin, Photographer” “Lights out, D.L Scudders bookstore was closed on Nov. 23 to the dismay of senior Erica McIntyre. Sad that she wouldn’t be able to find a rare book McIntyre went to the popular Borders in Riverpark, D.L. Scudders biggest competition.” “Fresno Bee

USA Today:””Will family farms die like mom, pop stores?””

Mackinac Center for Public Policy:””Giant chain stores vs mom and pop stores””

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