Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Bob Slate, Stationer to Sell Its Last Envelope in March

The Bob Slate, Stationer stores have been one of the iconic locally-owned businesses since I came to Cambridge thirty years ago. Now Bob Slate is closing.

This is the Bob Slate store on Church Street. I was just in to get an envelope a couple of weeks ago. Yes, one envelope, you can't buy one at Staples.

The letter on door tells the story. The owners have been trying to sell the business for several years, unsuccessfully. They let their Harvard Square leases expire and the stores will close in March.

This is the flagship Bob Slate store on Massachusetts Avenue. As a college student in the 1980s, they would sell me pencils and spiral notebooks and cash my checks. More recently Bob Slate has been selling me photo albums, cards, and gifts.

The story behind the story is that the store was owned by two brothers, the sons of the founder Bob Slate. They want to retire and don't want to put their children in the position of having to go into a declining small retail business.

The third store in Porter Square will also close.

How do you sell pencils and spiral notebooks in the age of laptops and iPads? Photo albums in the age of digital pictures? Cards in the age of email? Or gifts in the age of Amazon.com and a million other ecommerce websites?

The declining business problem is a hard one for small business in a recession. Is it you or is it the recession? Is your niche big enough or do you need to reinvent?

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