Benny’s, a southern New England general store selling merchandise from toys and bicycles to automotive and home and garden supplies, is in the midst of shutting down for good, the Narragansett Times reports.
The beloved retailer was founded as a lone tire stand in 1924 in Providence, RI, by Benjamin (Benny) Bromberg and now has 31 locations throughout Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut. The business is run by three of his grandchildren, who plan to wind down the business by the end of the year, according to the paper.
The local chain, known for its warm customer service, paid well and offered above-standard benefits, according to the report. The closures will put 715 employees — 386 working full-time — out of work.
Local retailers like Benny’s are in a quandary — people hate to see them go, but many often sign out of their Amazon accounts only for the going-out-of-business sales. The Bromberg family members told the Narragansett Times that the decision was mostly a desire to settle into retirement and let go of the day-to-day burdens of running a retail chain, but they also said that the competition from Amazon was a factor.
One loyal customer has gone so far as to launch a Change.org petition, appealing to Jeff Bezos to buy up the company and keep it running as is. "This way everyone can keep their jobs and Amazon will have new physical locations to sell products at (could be great for 'Amazon Basics' products)," writes "William B."
Not all local retail businesses are under siege. A robust "buy local" ethos among a segment of consumers has helped keep some businesses alive. Independent bookstores in particular, the first retailers in Amazon’s path when the e-commerce giant launched two decades ago, have nevertheless started growing again while national chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble have faltered.
But that doesn’t mean that they can depend on the nostalgia of the locals. Small local retailers can thrive, but they need to find ways to preserve their place as homegrown institutions while also taking steps to reach new customers — and keep everyone coming in (not just during their going-out-of-business sales).
"They definitely have to dig deeper, tell a richer story, specialize in what they do and focus on the personalization of experiences with their customers," Doug Stephens, a retail futurist and author of "Reengineering Retail: The Future of Selling in a Post-Digital World," told Retail Dive in an email earlier this year.