Hello friends of Onion River Sports,
It is with a heavy heart that I reach out to you to let you know that after almost 18 years of ownership, I am making the difficult decision that it is nearly time to close the doors of Onion River Sports and the Shoe Horn. This decision does not come lightly, not least of all because it means the end of employment for an incredible group of talented, loyal, and hard-working staff that have come to feel like family. It also means the end of a business venture started by my dear friends and mentors Jack Nash and Warren Kitzmiller, whose legacy I had hoped to strengthen and pass on to the next generation. Alas, it is not to be. The financial situation of the business is such that my only option at this point may well be closure.
Our struggles are not unique; the entire outdoor industry has been challenged by a significant downturn in sales and a change in consumer habits. No doubt you heard this spring about Eastern Mountain Sports filing for bankruptcy and closing of all of its Vermont retail stores. More recently, Vermont-based Ibex Outdoor Clothing laid off about half of its employees as the company grappled with upheaval in the retail industry. The changes at Ibex also had a direct effect on our business, since that company had been an important supplier to the Shoe Horn.
Some of you have heard about some specific challenges that our business has faced over the last decade, but few of you have known the full extent of those challenges and the financial tolls they have taken. I will spare you the details in this letter, but suffice to say that we have dealt with a dramatic downturn in sales, a years-long legal battle over the ORS e-commerce sites, and a large but unsuccessful investment in new website(s).
Over the past several months we have made last ditch efforts to save Onion River and the Shoe Horn, hoping to get through the winter and find a buyer for the stores. But it is clear now that we do not have the funds and can no longer access the vendor extended credit necessary to get winter inventory in the stores.
What seemed possible a year or even a few months ago – namely, righting the ship and becoming profitable– does not seem possible today. My only option seems to be closing the businesses to prevent further loss. This is clearly a financial decision for me, but after running ORS, Inc. for nearly 23 years (18 years as owner), and struggling mightily every week for the last few months to even meet payroll, I find that I am ready emotionally as well.
I am keenly aware of the role that Onion River has played in the community over the years. We have always been much more than just a retail operation. We have endeavored to be a steward and champion of the Montpelier area and to promote and enhance the athletic and social aspects of the community that are so treasured here. Indeed, I’ve often referred to myself as the current caretaker of ORS, rather than the owner. I’ve also been reminded by many folks that although closure of the stores is a sad prospect, that all good things come to an end, and it is important for us to celebrate all that we have accomplished. I am immensely proud of the contributions that ORS has made to the community, all of the fun and challenging events that we have organized and sponsored, all of the friendships that have been kindled here, the lives made more interesting and active, and of the amazing people who have worked with us over the years.
I can’t begin to thank all of you for your loyal support of Onion River Sports and your support for me personally. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to you and to all of Onion River’s customers, as well as my current and former staff, and the entire Montpelier community.
A friend and colleague said the other day, “I can’t imagine this town without Onion River!” With that in mind, if there is a creative solution that could allow Onion River to carry on in some new form, we are all ears. We are happy to hear from you with any thoughts you might have, even if just to share a memory.