Hanover clothing store Ramblers Way closes

by Sunny Drescher | 5/22/18 2:25am

by Michael Lin and Michael Lin / The Dartmouth

American-made sustainable clothing company Ramblers Way closed its Hanover storefront earlier this month after being open for only 17 months. The closure was due to a lack of foot traffic in the Hanover store, according to Ramblers Way founder and owner Tom Chappell.

“Because we spent quite a lot of money on the store and invested in salespeople and trained them, it was very disappointing not to have more people coming in the store,” Chappell said.

He added that Ramblers Way closed its Portsmouth, New Hampshire location earlier this year for the same reason.

Hanover town manager Julia Griffin said that an increase in online shopping, particularly in rural areas like Hanover, is one of the primary factors contributing to local storefronts closing. Ramblers Way follows other local retailers in Hanover, including Game Set Mat and Folk, that also closed this year.

Chappell said that the goal of opening a storefront in Hanover was “to benefit from the combination of the college community and the broader community of the Upper Valley.” He added that Hanover seemed like it would have a good number of people interested in sustainable clothing.

However, even though the students and community members who shopped at Ramblers Way loved the products and the mission of the company, according to Chappell, there was not a large enough consumer population to support the store.

“It’s a really challenging situation for independently-owned retail right now, given the competition from online shopping,” Griffin said.

She added that store owners who are looking to come to Hanover are “really doing their homework about what the market in this community actually looks like” and what community consumers are looking for. Griffin said that this is often frustrating for store owners because it can be tough to develop products with consumer demand that is broad enough to sustain a business in the long run.

Chappell said that originally it seemed like the company would be a good fit with the Hanover community, but that “there’s not much you can do if there’s no one coming in the store.”

Hannah Markowitz ’18, who has shopped at Ramblers Way in the past, said that she is sad about the store closing and that she loves Ramblers Way because of its commitment to promoting the company’s mission as a sustainable clothing manufacturer. She noted that whenever she went into the store, the employees always connected with her and explained to her the importance of sustainable clothing.

Fortunately for Markowitz and other fans of Ramblers Way, the company will continue its online presence, which Chappell said is the company’s number one source of revenue.

Ramblers Way will also continue to maintain some brick and mortar stores — including its location in Portland, Maine. Chappell said that having a physical storefront is the best way to educate consumers about the company’s sustainable clothing.

“[Customers] need to touch it, feel it, try it on and connect with the brand physically, so we’re continuing to open stores,” Chappell said. “What we’re learning from this experience is that we’ll tend to be opening stores in more urban areas rather than small market towns.”

Markowitz said that one time, she went into the store and found employees spinning wool to show customers how the hand-spun wool that goes into their clothes gets made.

“[Ramblers Way] is really committed to having their products be American-made, which is something that’s pretty unique for a clothing company,” Markowitz said.

Griffin said that Hanover has had, and will likely continue to have, difficulties in attracting new stores to occupy retail spaces because of the ease of online shopping. However, she added that some types of retailers may be more successful in Hanover than others, such as large shoe stores.

“Footwear is one of those things you could order from Zappos until the cows come home, but shoes are one of those things you benefit from being able to try on right there,” Griffin said.

She said that the inherent challenge with maintaining retail spaces in a small town is that “nobody wants to pay a premium for local.”