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January 6, 2009 - Ron Flaviano
I have always been somewhat dismayed when retail or restaurant chains go bust. In this cruddy economy, I fear that many more chains will fall by the wayside. One of the casualties of the 2008 crash is Steve and Barry's, a clothing retailer that sold inexpensive T-shirts, jeans, logowear and collegiate items. It arrived in our area, the Eastwood Mall in Niles, Ohio about 2 years ago. It was expansive, and well lit. Their selection of printed T-shirts was rivaled only by the huge vendors on coastal boardwalks. There was always something cool, retro or trendy on their shelves and racks. At first, the chain announced they were closing underperforming stores, but by year-end, they were folding entirely.
The Eastwood Mall store was liquidated to the bare walls by the end of 2008, and now it is totally empty. I had thought that the entire chain would be gone by now, as to avoid the 2009 fiscal year of accounting. Much to my surprise, the store at Chapel Hill Mall in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio (one of my favorite shopping haunts) was still open. My friend and I hustled in, and found it still full of clothes, fixtures and mannequins...and plenty of shoppers. There were many bargains to be had, shirts for a buck, jeans for $3, coats for $3, and much more. As I watched the shoppers pick through the merchandise it made me draw a parallel between where I live (in the Warren/Niles/Youngstown area) and the Akron market.
As I grew up, I partook in many store-closing sales for many of my favorite chains: Hills, Zayre, Murphy's Mart, Best Products, Phar Mor and several others. It seemed to me that in my area, the shoppers were like birds of prey...picking the stores to the very bones, leaving nothing left but an empty carcass of a store. Almost scavenger-like, I watched (and sometimes partook in) scuttles over merchandise, and vividly remember loading an entire buggy full of stuff (including a bowling ball) at a closing K-Mart all for $10. The shoppers in Akron didn't seem to be as desperate for the bargains, as they leisurely ruffled through the clothing. At the Niles Steve and Barry's, I saw one woman buy 10 Michigan jackets. She was either going to sell them somehow, or wear them until she croaked. I didn't see that type of frantic buying in Akron.
In any event, I did manage to get a few bargains for me and my family. I feel sad for the employees of the Steve and Barry's chain, and I sincerely hope that they are all able to find jobs. I worked for two chains that ended up closing, Best Products and Stambaugh's Home Improvement. I know what it's like to see a place you've worked in for years be emptied, sit vacant and then become something else. My advice...take a trinket or two from the store to remember. It may not seem important now, but years later, you will appreciate it.
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