At a time when the holiday shopping season focuses squarely on big-box stores and online retailers, along comes the Community Store in Saranac Lake to capture our hearts and imaginations.
The Ames department store in Saranac Lake closed in 2002, and no matter how hard small shop owners tried to collectively serve the “general store” needs of this community, more and more people began relying on the big-box destinations outside the Adirondack Park. When Walmart tried to build a supercenter here, village officials blocked the plan, forcing locals to make trips of 50 miles or more (one-way) to buy the most basic household items, such as underwear. It also gave the community a chance to create a department store for the masses, playing by home rule rather than corporate greed.
We’re not naïve. We know Saranac Lakers will still buy goods online and take shopping trips to the closest Walmart or Target. But this Community Store has given Saranac Lake a booster shot of confidence. It has made Saranac Lake a shopping destination again. It has bought Saranac Lake 15 more minutes of fame.
When the New York Times covered the Oct. 29 opening of the Community Store, its Business Section story was picked up by media outlets across the U.S. It captured the attention of The Early Show on CBS. It seems Saranac Lake is not only the coldest spot on the Weather Channel’s map of America; it is also one of the hottest retail destinations in the nation.
“People want closer relationships with each other and with the companies with which they do business. They want a conversation. They want to be part of it all,” wrote columnist David L. Rawle on Nov. 15 for the Charleston Regional Business Journal. “That’s why the Saranac Lake Community Store came into being and will no doubt be successful.”
Saranac Lake’s store — the first of its kind in New York state — was based on another community-owned department store, The Merc in Powell, Wyo. It’s only fitting that the Powell Tribune pick up on the New York Times story and compare the two communities and its “sister” stores.
“As it happens, Powell and Saranac Lake share more in common than a community-owned department store,” wrote the Tribune’s Tessa Schweigert on Nov. 17. “Both have a junior college. Both were named All-America Cities in the 1990s. Both have populations of fewer than 6,500 residents. Both have a rural flavor residents hope to keep alive.”
CNBC.com called the Community Store “A triumph of main street can-do” on Nov. 14. Now Saranac Lake is gaining a reputation for fighting the Wall Street business mentality, and it is quickly becoming the poster child for communities that fought Walmart and won.
Bloggers across the U.S. are relaying the New York Times report and asking readers what they think about Saranac Lake, its fight against Walmart and its decision to open a department store on its own terms. Comments on a recent blog posting at Glamour magazine’s website have been positive:
“This is the coolest thing I’ve read in weeks.”
“Capitalism at its best!”
“Amazing! Good for them. Wish we could all do that.”
Saranac Lake’s Community Store success has triggered a dialogue among small-town residents thinking about their own situations. Powell may have been Saranac Lake’s inspiration, but Saranac Lake is now poised to be an inspiration to many other American communities. And Community Store owners did this despite the recession, despite the failed actions of our federal government to stimulate the economy, and despite the big-box culture engrained in our society today.
Now people from around the country will be visiting the Adirondack Park to see the Community Store and discover everything else this region has to offer. Saranac Lake has once again proven why it was named an All-America City in 1996.