Smaller crafts and hobby shops cope in the age of the big box

Melissa Maranvilli of Granite State Hobbies

It depends who you ask

CLAREMONT — At the start of September, Hobby Lobby opened the doors of its store in Claremont. But how does that opening affect small-business owners in Claremont? The results are mixed, from deep concern to pleasure to apparent indifference.

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On Pleasant Street, the Country Pleasantries shop has suffered “probably at least a 60 percent drop in customers” since Hobby Lobby opened, according to owner Heidi Leslie.

Country Pleasantries carries a lot of handmade items, such as wreaths, tins, candles, lamps, pillows, and paintings. The store has been open for about two and a half years. Leslie used to own Simply Sweet Creations (now the site of the Bearse Bakery) a few doors down on Pleasant Street.

Leslie’s vision for her store is changing. Now, she said, she must “just try to keep things that Hobby Lobby doesn’t carry.” Toward that end, she is selling essential oils and something called CBD – a hemp-based product for alleviating pain, inflammation, and anxiety, she explained.

But it’s expensive to start carrying essential oils, and she doesn’t know yet if the move will pay off.

Sales have tailed off too on Country Pleasantries’ homemade honeys and jams — items not carried by Hobby Lobby. She suspects customers used to come into her shop for other reasons, and then buy the edible goodies upon seeing them. Now the store traffic has slowed. The store offers one-of-a-kind items, from country décor to gruesome Halloween decorations, but nothing can sell if there isn’t foot traffic in the store.

Shopping on Pleasant Street was slow even before Hobby Lobby came along, she lamented. 

“I love Hobby Lobby,” she added. “I just hope that the newness of Hobby Lobby wears off.”

If the country décor items stop selling, she figures she can hold on until springtime. But after that, she’s not sure how the cards will play out.

Elsewhere on Pleasant Street, Granite State Hobbies doesn’t seem bothered at all by the arrival of Hobby Lobby.

“I actually haven’t been affected,” said owner Melissa Maranvilli. “I think it’s helped me.”

How could a big competitor help her small store? Simple. Hobby Lobby does not cater to every hobby. Not trains. Nor cars. “They have lots of crafts,” she said, “but they lack an old-time hobby-shop feel.”

“RC [radio controlled] cars have always been my biggest seller,” Maranvilli said.  And that hasn’t changed.

Numerous customers, she explained, after visiting Hobby Lobby from out of town and learning that it doesn’t carry RC cars, then come to Granite State Hobbies. She stated that the last week of September, two fellows spent $500 to $600 apiece at her store on RC cars after first seeking them at Hobby Lobby.  Since the bigger store’s arrival, she’s also “sold quite a few trains.”

Also, she said, customers appreciate her expert knowledge.

That makes sense. A clerk at Hobby Lobby might know the answers to questions from casual customers but would be less prepared to answer the detailed questions Maranvilli fields every week from hobby enthusiasts. 

What about the lower prices at Hobby Lobby?

“Some people say my prices are better,” she said.  A quick check verified that on some products (such as this reporter’s Micron pen from Japan), her prices are, in fact, lower.  

Maranvilli acknowledged that “sometimes you can’t compete with the big-box stores.” If she limited her store to art supplies, then Hobby Lobby’s arrival might have harmed her. But the art supplies she carries “never did much business in Claremont,” she admitted. So that hasn’t changed. But those supplies are a nice bonus for whatever foot traffic the store can generate.

She speculated that her store and all the other stores in downtown Claremont would be helped by additional municipal parking closer to downtown itself (the multistory parking garage is suited more to The Common Man Inn building than to downtown shops), and by more signage to guide out-of-town motorists into the downtown area.

A visit to Frank’s Bargain Center (on Charlestown Road but still in Claremont) revealed that the store had its usual number and assortment of customers seeking fabrics and other sewing and knitting supplies.  Nobody at Frank’s seemed concerned about Hobby Lobby. Why be concerned? Frank’s has been in business, at that location, for roughly 48 years. In that time, a lot of competing stores have come and gone.

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