Lessons learned from closing a business
Perhaps most of the people who thronged to the cozy Schatzlein Saddle Shop last week were there to take advantage of the store-wide clearance sale. But surely some of them came to the store not to buy something to say something: goodbye.
The 115-year Minneapolis company, making one family name synonymous with the scent of fresh leather and the aesthetic appeal of western boots and cowboy hats, can’t zip into the sunset without caring.
After three generations occupied Schatzleins’ time and interest, the company announced that it would be closing by the end of September to allow some of the older family members to retire. Other factors read like a series of modern business challenges: competition from online retailers, difficulty hiring employees during a period of historically low unemployment, and persistent problems with supplying goods, which have yet to fully recover from the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, these are common difficulties that any business may encounter. The belt shop opened by a German immigrant, Emil Schatzlin, in 1907, seems to be in business for a long time, an extraordinary thing, and its demise, if anything, is long overdue.
This continuity is part of what makes Schatzlein such a comfortable institution, and it’s a sign that Minneapolis today still has basic things in common with Minneapolis in years past. It has shared this property with another notable Lake Street company, Ingebritsen Nordic Market.
Like Schatzlein, Ingebretsen is steeped in tradition. Rows of shoppers creep through the door to the bottom of the building every year during the holiday season. Like Schatzlin, too, it’s a remarkable success story, born from a seed planted by an immigrant long ago – in this case, Charles Ingebritsen in 1921.
The current statistics indicate that Only half of all small businesses survive for five years and a third last for up to 10. It’s hard to find data on how many businesses have lasted for a hundred years, but one guess is that it might be half of the 1%. The possibility that these two small businesses could stay afloat for more than a century says something wonderful about the entrepreneurial spirit and economic vitality of immigrant communities.
Between Schatzlein and Ingebretsen along Lake Street is the Midtown Global Market, where immigrants are among the small business owners working to bring new life to the ground floor of the old Sears building. They and other immigrants and refugees in the metropolitan area run a business that brought in $37 million in 2019.
Perhaps none of them will work in 2122 – but no one expected such a long run from Charles Ingebritsen or Emil Schatzlin either.
When an editorial writer visited Schatzlein last week, a crowd of grieving customers were trying to put on shoes and hats in the shade of the shop’s antique horse carriage. Down the road in Ingebretsen, business has been less active, perhaps because there is no hint that the shop might close anytime soon. Police officers there were responding to a call about theft of a bag on the sidewalk outside, in a reminder of the urgent need to get the crime problem in Minneapolis under control.
The departure of Schatzlin is an occasion to mourn, but also to congratulate. This is how American success stories are supposed to work. It also challenges other companies, whether or not they are run by immigrants, the need to evolve with the changing times.
The rest reminds us that immigrant companies make unique contributions to the city’s vibrancy. They deserve support.