, Salem, MA

April 2, 2014

Our view: Local businesses thrive, even as institutions pass from the scene

The Salem News

---- — It has been a rough few weeks for those of us who enjoy spending our money at locally run small businesses and who appreciate the sense of continuity and history long-running establishments bring to a neighborhood. But there is still much to celebrate in the local business community.

First, the sad news.

Last month, Frank and Ted Monroe announced they will close Derby Square Book Store in Salem after 39 years.

Customers from all over visited the Essex Street store to marvel at its wide, moderately priced selection and to wonder at how the teetering stacks of more than 10,000 books seemed to defy the laws of physics by staying upright.

“It’s living Jenga,” Salem State University student and Derby Square Book Store fan Kathy Farias told reporter Tom Dalton.

The eclectic inventory included everything from George Eliot’s “Adam Bede” to E.L. James’s “Fifty Shades Darker” to Barack Obama’s “Dreams from My Father.”

In Beverly, Cabot Street Cinema’s owners recently decided to stop showing films at the historic theater, which has been up for sale for almost a year.

The theater had been showing movies since it opened on Dec. 20, 1920, with the silent film “Behold My Wife,” starring Mabel Julienne Scott, Milton Sills and Winter Hall.

On its opening night, the Beverly Times labeled it “Beverly’s palatial new playhouse,” calling it “the finest theater of its size east of New York.”

The 2012 closing of the Le Grand David and His Own Spectacular Magic Show, however, spelled the end of the Cabot as we know it, as the income from the movies was used to help keep the show running.

Now, owner David Bull said, “It’s strange to be in town and not have the marquee lit up.”

Meanwhile, over in Hamilton, Robert McRae, owner of Mac’s Shoe Repair, is closing his shop after 64 years.

McRae did a lot of work with riding boots. “I used to take them in and let them out and resole them, all different things,” he said. “I had a lot of customers even from as far away as Vermont and Maine and New Hampshire, because there were not too many repair shops that would work on riding boots at that time.”

These days, McRae said, shoes are throwaway items.

“It’s a dying business, I think,” he said.

Three local institutions, passing on with the blink of an eye. It would be easy to say large chains are sweeping aside small family operations, that our way of life is changing. In a sense, that’s true. But it is also true that community businesses can survive and even thrive in this era, thanks to hard work on the part of their owners and a strong connection with local customers. There is abundant evidence of this fact here on the North Shore.

While Derby Street may be sold, for example, it will remain a bookstore under new ownership. (And it did outlast at least one major chain, Borders Books.)

Though the Cabot Street Theatre is closing, independently owned movie houses continue to grow and thrive. Marblehead’s Warwick reopened last year as part of a grand re-imagining of the historic site. CinemaSalem has become a city institution, showing first-run movies and events ranging from President Obama’s inauguration to the final episode of “Lost.” It is also one of the driving forces behind the spectacular Salem Film Fest, which brings top documentary filmmakers to the North Shore every year.

CinemaSalem’s customers showed their dedication to the place in 2012, raising more than $60,000 through a Kickstarter campaign to help the business buy state-of-the-art digital screening equipment.

And on today’s business page, Ethan Forman writes about New England Running Company in Beverly’s Commodore Plaza. The independently owned running shoe store, founded 11 years ago, is expanding into the space next door.

Owner David Menosky said business has remained steady, in part because the store has been a part of the community, sponsoring a series of trail races, as well as several road races and low-key monthly group runs.

We should remember Derby Square, Cabot Street Cinema and Mac’s for the local institutions they were. But we should also recognize that the era of well-run, community-minded businesses hasn’t ended — there are just new faces behind the counter.