“The competition was so bad. The minute the Salvation Army moved in, I knew it was over,” says Connie Snow, owner of one of the oldest thrift stores in Ann Arbor, the Woman in the Shoe, which closed this fall. “Big box stores–they happen in resale too. It’s not just hardware stores.”
Snow wasn’t involved in the store’s founding; back then she was selling real estate, and the store was owned by Shirley Haulotte. In the mid-1980s, Haulotte sold the store to Snow’s sister Sally, who had been working there, and Snow bought it a few years later.
Beginning about ten years ago, Ann Arbor saw a sudden florescence of resale shops, and a lot of them ended up on South Industrial. “There was no plan. It was cheap real estate, or relatively cheap, anyway,” says Snow. “I was the only one for so long, then there was the Klothes Kloset, the ReUse Center, PTO Thrift Shop, Top Drawer, Salvation Army. I tried and I tried and I tried, and all I got were drop-offs. No one would buy anything. I finally realized I was spending my own money to keep the store open.”
The last few years have been heart-wrenching for Snow. In addition to losing the store, she was the primary caregiver for both of her parents. Her father died in 2010 of Alzheimer’s, and her mother died this year of heart disease.
Snow is sixty-one, looking for a job, and afraid she’s going to lose her house. “I’m finding I’m not qualified for much. My computer skills are lacking. I had my own way of doing things. I loved my store. Every day, I’d get up in the morning and I’d think, ‘I can’t wait to go to work.’ My customers were like my family. I had customers who bought for their babies, and were coming in to buy for their grandchildren.”
Andrea Graef’s tone was flat and emphatic in a recent phone interview about the closing of This & That, her candy store on Liberty near State, in late October: “The basic line is, the store closed because of the economy, because of competition, because of Borders closing, because of the increased panhandling, which has made the business community down there a poor one to be in right now.” She paused and then repeated before ringing off: “The economy is the number-one reason.”