Changes ahead for downtown Penn Yan

John Christensen
Lowns House of Shoppes will be closing soon.

Lown’s House of Shoppes, the second incarnation of the Penn Yan landmark retail store, is coming to an end. The Main Street store, one of the anchors of the downtown business district for over a century, is going out of business. Signs advertising 20 percent off all merchandise in a “Going Out of Business Sale” stunned many residents when they suddenly appeared Monday morning.

Flora Nielsen, the person who has been the friendly public face most associated with the store, will miss the job she has had for over 45 years. “Maybe it’s time for me to retire. Don’t you think I’ve earned it?” she joked. (Speaking as one who can remember Flora smiling down on me when I wasn’t even tall enough to see over the counter, I don’t believe it.)

Flora, just like everyone else at the store, knows why the gift store must close. “It’s this economy. People just aren’t buying as much,” she said. That was reiterated by owner Carl Schwartz Esq. “This is a sad day for me,” he said. He cited the economic conditions, the arrival of dollar stores, and the increase in online shopping as some of the major reasons he had to make this difficult decision.

Schwartz began the business in June of 1996 with 30 vendors and his grandmother, Betty VanSickle, as manager. “She’d been in retail all of her working life, and she did it for the love of it,” he recalled. Sadly, two years ago, advancing age made it impossible for her to continue to do the job she loved. Another family member took over her duties, but ill health has made that impossible too.

The falling number of vendors was also a factor.  The original 30 are now down to six. Each vendor had to commit a share of their time equal to the size of their stall to help staff the store. With so few vendors, more paid staff just added to the overhead costs.

According to Schwartz,  some went on to make their own stores, but there just isn’t the entreprenureal backing for small ventures today as there was in the 1990s. “It’s not like we’re selling things people can’t do without, like groceries. We offered really unique items, though. Things you couldn’t find anywhere but Lown’s,” he said.

In related Main Street news, long-time resident Ray Knafo has decided at 83-years-old, it’s time to retire from the world of retail sales.

Landmark Wines and Spirits, his gourmet shop, and the entire Struble’s Arcade building are on the market. Knafo has set his price firmly at $400,000 for the building and the businesses inclusive, with approximately $150,000 of in-store inventory. Perhaps  these potential changes will bring opportunities for Penn Yan’s Main Street.

The Arcade building is for sale, as are the businesses within.