May 22, 2005

A beloved institution in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood of Philadelphia before too long will be history: The General Store, located just south and west of the square on South 20th Street will be closing for good once the shop’s inventory is sold off at, at least, the now going rate of 50-percent off.

Joseph A. Slobodzian tells the story in “The General Store’s Last Markdown,” in the May 20 issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The General Store is a great little shop. As Slobodzian put it, the store boasts “a kooky, eclectic inventory that is part five-and-dime, part antiques and jewelry, part boardwalk, and all neighborhood institution.”

Better, the store is owned and managed by some terrific people I have had the privilege and pleasure of meeting just recently: Milton and Reba Wiener and their daughter, Patty Fox.

I picked up a few things at the General Store a week or two ago, keepsake sort of items that for me will carry forever an added element of poignancy given their provenance.

It’s just too hard -- impossible, even -- for an establishment like the General Store, unusual and unique as it was is, to compete with the giant retailers to which consumers flock in their eternal quest to get more stuff for less money. As the Inquirer reports:

Fox, who has managed the store for 10 years, said she, her mother and her father, Milton, made the painful decision to close after this Valentine’s Day when sales trends became clear. […]

Fox said she recently bought a small, sequined purse at Target for $4.99 and thought she’d carry it in the General Store.

“For me to buy the same thing would cost me $6 wholesale. Now how can I hope to compete?” Fox said.

Some day, though I don’t know when, we’re going to look back and wonder how and why we let such businesses go, perhaps on a day when we realize just how similar our kitchen looks compared with our neighbors’, or when we finally admit that Crate & Barrel’s unique signature style looks the same no matter where the merchandise is set down.

In the meantime, or at least until the General Store closes, why not drop in and take a look at an emporium the likes of which I guarantee you will never see in this country again.


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