Some of the masks and costumes at Magical Mystery Tour in Morton Grove represented hard-to-kill horror ghouls.
And so the existence of the 35-year-old store, 6010 Dempster St., falls in the same style. Designated for closing just after Halloween by longtime owner Randy Israel last summer, Magical Mystery Tour has some life after its projected death. Announcing 70-percent-off sales on its remaining stock, the store will likely finally close on Saturday, Dec. 17, just a few weeks from now, lifelong Morton Grove resident Israel said Tuesday.
“It doesn’t mean we might not go one extra week (up to Christmas), but as of now, that’s the plan,” he said.
He's not alone. In the first quarter of 2010, for example, "there was a net loss of 96,000 companies with fewer than 100 employees," according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as reported by the New York Times. While that number is down significantly from the 400,000 lost in 2009, it's evident small businesses are still taking a hit from the economy.
The store appeared to have a large selection of masks and other gag gifts and props for sale this week. But in reality, the stock is down to about 15 percent of what it normally carried since it opened in 1976 with original employee Israel assuming ownership a decade later.
“Customers have to realize it’s not just the bottom-line dollar. If they have to spend a few dollars to support independent businesses, it helps support their communities. It adds to the restaurants, it’s one big cycle.”
Already gone are Halloween and Santa Claus getups and magic paraphernalia. The manikin heads in back almost appear forlorn, stripped of their wigs that have departed in the latest clearance sale.
“We extended it because we still had inventory we wanted to move out,” Israel said of the store’s added lifespan. “I was a little surprised on that (being open past Halloween), to be honest about that. But we did have a big turnout. We probably had a little more inventory than we anticipated.”
Israel will make a transition to a costume manufacturer with offices nearby on Dempster Street early in 2012. But he won’t be able to take store employee Ely Claus with. Working at Magical Mystery Tour for the past five years around her full-time job in the circulation department of the Morton Grove Public Library, Claus tended the store Tuesday morning prior to Israel’s arrival.
No mystery – it was 'a lot of fun’
“I had a lot of fun here,” she said. “I’ve met a lot of interesting people here. I’ve enjoyed it.”
Including employees like Claus, not much of the store will be transferred to Israel’s new business.
“I was going to move the whole office and we’ll bring some display props for trade shows in the future,” he said. “There’s some costume lines I’m looking at pursuing.”
Magical Mystery Tour was a victim of the overall poor economy, competition from both online outlets and temporary Halloween costume stores and the Dempster Street construction project. The reconstruction project lasted nearly a year and a half and affected many businesses along the street, including Magical Mystery Tour. Claus said the entrance to the store’s parking lot was closed twice due to the construction, preventing patrons from reaching the store.
Chain stores cutting into profit
Israel said smaller, independent retailers such as himself will face big challenges going forward in the economy as mass-market chains can undercut them in price.
“Nationally, for Halloween some areas did well – San Francisco, New Orleans,” he said. “The Midwest, not so well. It’s somewhat over-stored in my field."
For some small businesses like Israel's, being highly specialized or having a niche doesn't always mean guaranteed success.
"But even the mass market is getting into specialty goods. Nobody is really protected," he said. "People right now are so geared for discounts and bottom-line prices they’re not willing to pay for that (individual retailers’ customer) service.”
Israel predicts fewer entrepreneurs will start small businesses due to the difficulty in obtaining bank financing.
“I was speaking to someone in a business, very successful and around for many years,” he said. “They’re looking to expand into an additional locations. They couldn’t get the funds together for that."
He added that in the past and before the economic downturn, many entrepreneurs came out of the corporate world "with golden parachutes" to finance new businesses, which isn't the case now. With small businesses fending for themselves in the arena of big chain stores, he stressed the importance of supporting both the indendent stores and the community.
“Customers have to realize it’s not just the bottom-line dollar," Israel said. "If they have to spend a few dollars to support independent businesses, it helps support their communities. It adds to the restaurants, it’s one big cycle.”
You can find more articles from this ongoing series, “Dispatches: The Changing Amerian Dream” from across the country at The Huffington Post.