Traders Contemplates Closing
East Atlanta Village home furnishings store says economy taking its toll
The holiday season is a time of merriment and Yuletide spirit, but for one East Atlanta store it may be the make-or-break time to decide if they will ring in the New Year.
Long-time East Atlanta furniture store Traders is suffering from a bad economy and the repercussions of opening a second store just as the economy was starting to tank.
Traders, one of the stores credited with helping revitalize East Atlanta Village, is in need of customers looking for retail therapy.
"We opened Traders in 1997 and it was a home accessory, furniture and gift store," said Michael Knight, who opened it with his partner Shawn Ergle.
"It was modern and eclectic. We had our best sales in '01, '02, '03 and '04 so we were really optimistic. We're still here 13 years later but who knows."
Traders was so successful the Knight and Ergle decided to open a second store at the Edgewood Retail Shopping District on Caroline Street. That store, "Area Urban Interiors," opened in October 2005 and Traders' sales starting slipping.
"The two stores are only a mile away from each other and had a different look and different merchandise. Area was more upscale and expensive," Knight said. "We kind of thought we'd lose some sales at Traders but not as much as we did. We didn't think we would be cannibalizing the sales of Traders."
Area's first year was great as customers flocked to the intown shopping center that features a Target, Lowe's, Kroger and Best Buy. The second year, Area's sales were "okay" and the bleeding of customers from Traders seemed to have stopped.
Then the recession hit.
"When 2007 came, people just stopped buying furniture," Knight said. "Sales were going down and down. Every month.
"But the government kept saying that things would pick up so we kept borrowing money thinking the next season would be better. We maxed out our credit cards and then took out a second mortgage on our house. But everyone kept saying the economy would pull through."
Area closed in October 2009 and Knight and Ergle filed for personal bankruptcy protection.
"We learned some very hard lessons," Knight said. He declined to discuss the bankruptcy.
With Area closed, Knight is focused on saving Traders and, essentially, the life he has worked hard for over the years.
"We took a chance on a second store and am now loaded in debt. We're like so many other people. We're in financial difficulty and the stress of it all is very hard."
Knight said he also is tired of struggling.
"We've been here for so long and more people are moving into the area and they're not supporting us. We have about a fourth of our store dedicated to children's furniture and accessories and people will just go to Target.
"We did about $400 in children's furniture last month. There are some neighbors who don't shop in the Village at all."
Others come "once a year at this time and tell us how beautiful the store is, and maybe they'll buy a candle or something," he said. "But we're not here for looks. We need customers."
Knight said he's grateful for his long-time customers and is doing things to attract and keep new ones.
For example, he has rearranged the merchandise and put some lower-priced, smaller items in the front to help entice people into the store.
The two also have a design blog and are highlighting their in-home design consultancy.
"We have a lot of stuff we never had before and our customers would like it. We have a lot of fun stuff as well, like Sarah Palin toilet paper. We just need people to come into the store."
For now, he said the store will use holiday foot traffic — and sales — as a gauge for Traders' future.
"I really don't know how much more we can hang on," Knight said.
"It has to get better and we'll know more about what we're going to do after the Christmas season. We must have a great Christmas or we might hang it up. So far it's looking OK."