Rosann Underwood stands at the counter of her Greenville children’s boutique surrounded by dozens of colorful grosgrain ribbons set to adorn packages, and her gaze is drawn longingly to the plush animals, cute onesies and rattles, and popular storybooks displayed around her store.
Underwood has loved her years as owner of Oranges & Lemons, but she is sad that run is coming to an end.
The store announced it would be closing its Powder Mill Square shop in early February, another victim to the massive shift to online shopping that has devastated small retailers across the country.
“The online sales from competitors in the last three years have just cut into the foot traffic in the store,” said Underwood. “The moms nowadays — to try and get your kids in the car seat with their jackets on, finding a parking spot — I get it. I mean, it’s the ease of online shopping. It’s just so much easier.”
Another local shop carrying women’s apparel, Shop Mamie in Trolley Square and Kennett Square, also recently announced it would be closing its doors after eleven years.
While owners acknowledged a “change in consumer behavior” has led to a “decline in traffic” into their stores, the owners said their leases were up at both locations and said other personal factors affected their decision to close. In a Facebook post to loyal customers, Megan Corey and Amy Kanzleiter said, “Staying home with our families is what we want to do right now.”
“I don’t think it was necessarily that the internet stole our business,” said Kanzleiter. “But we saw a shift … for the first few years, people came in a lot. More recently, people just wanted to shop at Mamie Boutique online and pick up in-store. Ultimately, we saw less and less people coming into the store.”
Oranges & Lemons, filled with beautiful children’s clothes, books and toys has just one location in Greenville and chose not sell its wares online. Mamie had a robust online business which contributed to its overall success.
Underwood and her staff of three take pride in the beautiful wrapping they offer – each box tied with yellow and green ribbons.
And for many years she maintained a dry erase board on the front desk with recent birth announcements. “We all took such joy in hearing the good news when babies were born. I have really enjoyed being part of the fabric of this community,” she says.
Underwood bought the business in 2012 but was one of the first hires before the store even opened in 2004. She didn’t plan to close so soon.
But she adds that the departure of other retailers in Powder Mill Square also could have impacted her business. Last month, on some of the busiest days of the holiday shopping season, Underwood says her store might have had three customers – not nearly enough to stay in business.
“In the early years, it was amazing how many people would stop in after shopping somewhere else or grabbing coffee next door. That doesn’t happen anymore.” For more than 20 years Brew HaHa! operated right next door to Oranges & Lemons. But in 2016, the coffeehouse moved to an expansive 3,000-foot space in another building within the center.
While spaces formerly occupied by Peter Kate, Houppette, A.R. Morris (who moved to a new location in Powder Mill Square) and now Oranges & Lemons leave Powder Mill Square with four retail vacancies, shopping center owner Greg Pettinaro remains optimistic.
He says Powder Mill Square is 91 percent occupied and that other tenants are reporting “good if not record sales for the year.” And he says his company is in discussions with a fashion store and juice bar to fill the existing vacancies. He added that he is sorry to see Oranges & Lemons close, acknowledging that some smaller local stores can have challenges competing with online businesses.
“We work hard as an organization to attract and keep local tenants in the center,” said Pettinaro. “We will continue to do so – as a community, we can all buy locally to help out local tenants.”
Shop Mamie owner Amy Kanzleiter says at the time of their decision to close, their sales were “stronger than ever.” But she added, “The landscape has changed over the course of our eleven years, and you have to roll with the changes.”
“We did consider the possibility of just keeping our online store, but that would still require going to market, travel, and that’s tough to do with kids,” said Kanzleiter.
Corey confessed that with her three young children, she herself finds the convenience of online shopping too tempting to pass up. “I’m one of the reasons retailers are struggling. I don’t really go out and shop. I don’t go into the stores. I’m pretty much online, like everyone else my age, especially with young kids at home,” she said.
Everything at Oranges & Lemons is marked down 30 percent. The store hopes to remain open through February 15th. Their signature gift wrapping is still available as long as the paper doesn’t run out.
Kanzleiter and Corey will have one last chance to visit with their customers – they are one of two dozen exhibitors who will sell merchandise at the Guilty Girls Warehouse Sale Fri., January 31st and Sat., February 1st at the DuPont Country Club.