Dartmouth Co-op closes outdoor store

by Kathleen McDermott | 1/4/02 6:00am

Within a week, the outdoor store of Main Street's Dartmouth Co-op will permanently shut its doors, prompted by increased competition in the already volatile market for outdoor goods.

Instead, the Co-op will concentrate its efforts on selling the more profitable Dartmouth insignia items and expanding online sales, according to Co-op owner Eugene Kohn '60

Liquidation sales of all outdoor merchandise began on Nov. 23, and with increased discount sales Kohn predicts that the outdoor store will close no later than Jan. 10.

Kohn and his partner Allen Stowe '60 decided to close the outdoor store in early November, when the store's lease came up for renewal and they chose to not renegotiate with the property's landlord.

According to Kohn, however, the decision to stop selling outdoor goods is merely part of a continuous evolution in the nature of the store's merchandise.

Eight years ago these changes brought outdoor goods -- such as Columbia and North Face jackets -- to line the Co-op's shelves.

Yet today such items are in wide distribution at a variety of retailers, including many able to offer discount prices, Kohn said.

"This puts pressure on traditional retailers in a downtown locations, where rents stay the same or go up and [profit] margins are threatened," he explained.

In addition, "Hanover is a first class retail market," and the costs for the personnel needed to service customers are also high. "These prices went up while competition has increased," Kohn said.

Competition has come in part from local stores such as West Lebanon's Eastern Mountain Sports, according to Kohn. In addition, over the past four or five years manufacturers have increasingly moved items into discount outlets or even direct sales.

Dartmouth students can also seek out discounts in their home communities as well from stores in the Upper Valley, he noted.

Furthermore, the business of selling outdoor items is inherently a volatile business, according to Kohn. "If it doesn't snow, it makes a difference" in sales, Kohn explained, noting that although snow is never guaranteed, events such as Dartmouth's Homecoming and class reunions are.

Demand for Dartmouth merchandise has shown solid positive growth throughout the Co-op's existence, and store now holds the dominant position within Hanover on Dartmouth insignia sales.

Thus the Co-op will now focus on "selling more things that are green and white," Kohn said, to traditional clientele such as students and visitors, as well as expanding marketing and sales to student organizations and alumni logging onto the Co-op's website.

Since the Co-op began Internet sales five years ago they have seen "exciting growth," according to Kohn, and now even have plans to utilize their website to merchandise insignia items for other colleges and universities.

Additionally, the Co-op will expand its marketing of Dartmouth merchandise to College sports teams, reuniting classes and graduating seniors.

Although some customers have expressed disappointment at the outdoor store's closing, many hope another local merchant will step in and fill the new void, Kohn said.

The building space freed by the outdoor store's closing is already in the process of being filled with a new tenant, according to the property's landlord, Phil Harrison of Lyme Properties.

Harrison said he is currently interviewing approximately eight applicants for the space, a broad mix of restaurants and retailers, including both local and national businesses.