Schuler Books writes last chapter for downtown store


Schuler Books and Music’s downtown Grand Rapids store, at 40 Fountain St. NW, opened in 2007. Courtesy Schuler Books and Music

After five years, Schuler Books and Music is closing the doors to its downtown Grand Rapids location.

Bookstore representatives said the scarcity of downtown shoppers during evenings and weekends contributed to the decision.

Bookstore owners Cecile Fehsenfeld and Bill Fehsenfeld were hesitant to open the downtown location due to their concerns about the storefront opening onto Fountain Street instead of Monroe, as well as inadequate foot traffic, and they passed up the first opportunity to take on the location. After the closing of River Bank Books, they were approached again about the location and decided to take a chance, opening the store in 2007.

“We were offered a compelling investment opportunity to take over the space, along with the inventory and fixtures,” said Cecile Fehsenfeld. “It was because we had this unique investment opportunity that it made sense for us to experiment. Without a great deal of risk, we could try out various enhancements and see if we could grow the sales of the store.

“After five years — and going through the worst recession in over half a century — sales are very little different from where they were in our first full year. It was time to renew our lease, and it was simply hard to justify another commitment to the space. Our early reservations about the Fountain Street entrance and the volume of shopping traffic seemed to be confirmed.”

Fehsenfeld said that the closing doesn’t indicate a lack of support for downtown retail. She thinks that downtown already has the ability to support several types of retail stores, but that bookstores are different because they require a broad customer base to support them. Still, downtown retailers could benefit from some additional and specific types of growth, she said.

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“Better concentration of retail into a single shopping area would help the downtown, as well as the presence of some national brands mixed in with the local retail,” Fehsenfeld said. “The growing downtown residential population will also increase the viability of retail.”

Fehsenfeld expects that the store’s downtown customers will make the trip to Alpine Avenue or 28th Street, the store’s other two Grand Rapids locations.

“We feel pretty good about how all our stores are positioned for the coming year, both in Grand Rapids and in Lansing. Our downtown customers have been wonderfully loyal, and we hope to see them at the 28th Street and Alpine Avenue stores.”

All downtown Schuler employees have been offered positions at the company’s other locations.

The downtown location has begun the closing process by marking down everything in the store by 25 percent, and the final closing date will depend on how quickly the items move.

“Everyone at the store has loved working in the downtown environment,” Fehsenfeld said. “The booksellers and cafe workers enjoyed their close interactions with the customers there, and in the words of our manager, Neil Rajala, feel grateful for ‘the rich experiences, friendship, and support Schuler Books Downtown customers have so freely offered over the last few years.’”

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