The timer has sounded for a longtime downtown Lawrence kitchen store and Massachusetts Street mainstay.
The Bay Leaf, 717 Mass., is closing after 35 years in business, owner Geri Riekhof confirmed Wednesday.
“It is a very sad thing,” Riekhof said. “I go from sobbing and feeling like there was a death in the family to then telling myself that it is a passage of time thing and the retail world is just changing. At least I got to be part of it when it was still a thrill.”
Riekhof said the Internet has done much to take the thrill out of the business. She said consumers need to understand what Internet purchases are doing to locally owned stores. She said legislators also have to figure out a way to fairly tax Internet purchases.
“The Internet is what is killing us,” Riekhof said. “It makes it so easy to shop without paying sales tax, without paying shipping, and they can still undercut us on price. It is killing local businesses everywhere.”
Other downtown retailers said the Internet issue has become a bigger one as the economy has tightened.
“I don’t think people realize how much of an impact buying online has on local businesses,” said April Del Campo, owner of Prairie Pond Studio, 809 Mass. “I understand everybody wants a few extra dollars in their pocket, but there are others costs to doing that. So many people decide to live in Lawrence because of Massachusetts Street.”
Riekhof plans to immediately begin having a going-out-of-business sale, and expects that the store will close in the next 45 days.
Other factors besides Internet competition have contributed to the store’s decline. The store previously was at 725 Mass., but moved to its current location in 2008. The new space was about 2.5 times bigger and allowed the store to add cooking classes.
Riekhof said the move was ill-timed, as the economy soured just a few months later. She said her landlord — recently elected City Commissioner Bob Schumm — had made several accommodations to try to keep her as a tenant, but ultimately sales fell to the point that Riekhof decided the business was no longer feasible.
Riekhof — who fell in love with the store in the 1980s while working for previous owners Anne Yetman and Gunda Hiebert — also said downtown businesses need to do a better job of banding together to compete.
She said she was disappointed that more retailers did not agree to have later hours during the holiday retail season. She said she would have liked later hours at her shop year-around, but found it difficult to justify it if there only were going to be a handful of retailers open.
“You have to have a critical mass,” said Riekhof, who spent 10 years as a manager with the Helzberg Diamond chain in Kansas City. “It was frustrating that as a group we couldn’t get on the same page about how late we need to stay open to compete with the malls that are in the area.”