How long is a life?
There's no set answer to that question, obviously. I'm convinced, though, that just as a person has a finite lifespan, so does a business. I've mentioned this to friends in the past; the best business is ultimately destined to die, as will the worst business. The difference is the duration between a business's inception and its demise.
Just before Christmas, someone who grew up near Dr. No's and was a regular customer during his high school years came back to visit. He moved to the West Coast almost two decades ago and had only been back once or twice to visit since then, and had not been able to drop by the store on those earlier visits. "It was so weird," he said. "I drove down Canton Road, and I realized that other than a few fast food restauarants that were still in the same place, every other business that I remembered from my childhood wasn't there any longer--except for the Ace Hardware store and Dr. No's."
Today I found out that the Ace Hardware store went out of business at the end of 2009, a little more than a week after that former customer remarked on its longevity.
Rich's. Treasure Island. Food Giant. Revco. Turtles. Gateway Books. Oz Records. Liberty News. The Paper Chase. Bruno's. Big K. Drug Emporium. Couch's Grocery. Book Trader. The Record Shop. Godfather's Pizza. Miller's. Wyatt's. Service Merchandise. Norwood Griffin. A&P. People's. Music Music Music. Esserman's. Harris Teeter. Laserdisc Enterprises. Parisian. Premiere Video. Reader's Den. Conn's Grocery. Gass TV and Electronics. Candler's Drugs. The EZ Shop. Petro's Pizza.
Just a few of the many businesses that I have frequented over the years that have thrived, declined, and failed. While a few (A&P, Bruno's Harris Teeter) are still successful elsewhere, none of them still exist in this area--and there are times when I think back fondly on each and every one of them and wonder what went wrong.
Are you old enough to remember when every major mall had a Hammond organ store (or something similar) that loudly played synthesized-rhythm tracks along to accompany syncopated arrangements of recent hits? Do any of those stores still exist today?
Remember when every major mall department store had a sizeable tech and entertainment department with televisions, VCRs, stereo systems, and the like?
Times change. Interests change. Technology changes. Means of selling merchandise change. And as a result, every store will fail eventually.
I say this at a time when Dr. No's, my comic shop, has posted one of its best years in history, so I don't want you to think I'm concerned about my comic shop. We're doing great, and I think we have the prospects of doing even better in years to come.
At the same time, though, I know that there will be a day when Dr. No's won't exist any longer. And there will be a day when people will reminisce about the store and wonder, "Whatever happened to that comic shop on Canton Road?"
I had to make a trip to the mall tonight--perhaps the third or fourth time I've gone to the mall in the past twelve months. As I walked the length of the mall upstairs and downstairs, I started thinking about the time before there was a Town Center Mall; I remembered its opening in 1986; and I thought about the many stores that once occupied the mall and are now gone. Most of them had their glory days, went into decline, and went away.
Tonight I stopped in the Lindt Chocolates store to pick up some dark chocolate truffles (a weakness of mine). They were on sale for 50% off... because the store is closing. Next week will be their last week of business. After that time, the Lindt store in Lenox Square will be the only remaining Georgia location. And yet it seems like chocolate is more popular than ever right now. So it's not necessarily the decline in popularity of the product itself--it's just a change in public tastes, shopping habits, and economic trends.
It's not a sign of a bad business, or bad management, or bad products. It's just a part of the life cycle.
Had someone told me when I bought Dr. No's from Artie Decker in 1982 that the store would still be open and setting sales records in 2009, I wouldn't have believed it. If someone told me today that the store was going to be gone by the year 2037, I would find that equally hard to believe. We don't like the idea that things change. We count on sameness, we assume that businesses will be here tomorrow and next month and next year and so on.
But every business has a lifespan. And just like people, we don't know in advance how long that lifespan is. (Of course, my goal is to keep my business healthy and thriving for as long as possible, just as my goal is to keep myself healthy and thriving for as long as possible. But neither is immortal.)