Every piece is different, even the socks.
That’s been the rule at In the Woods for the past 27 years, the eclectic woodcraft, rug, furniture, cooking wares and knickknack store in Edgartown. The store has stocked everything from woven wool socks from Afghanistan to sets of Noah’s Ark crafted in the backwoods of Maine. But at the end of the month the doors will close for good.
It may seem as if the owners, husband and wife team Charles Fitzgerald and Kathy Cerick, have been on the brink of closing for sometime now, with signs posted on the windows saying as much for the past few years. But this time it’s for real. Their lease is up at the end of the year and they’ve chosen not to renew.
On this past Wednesday morning, Mr Fitzgerald and Ms. Cerick sat down in their store at a large oak table stacked with antique Afghani rugs. Mr. Fitzgerald stood up to retrieve one of his favorite items, a natural edged cutting board made from birdseye maple, made at his workshop in Maine. He presented the board like a silver platter, pointing out the swirling grain cut in the hard wood.
“He’s really going to miss this store,” Ms. Cerick said.
The couple took a moment to reflect on their experience.
In the Woods began as a small storefront on St. Mark’s Place in New York city in the 1960s, with more stores popping up across the city and around the country. The couple eventually settled on the Vineyard in the early 1980s where they established the Menemsha Woodshop, currently home to clothing store Pandora’s Box. They worked in the front of the shop during the day and at night put up a curtain to the backroom, cooked their food on Bunsen burners and slept in sleeping bags.
“We wanted to open in Edgartown because we thought it was such a beautiful town, such a quaint town,” Ms. Cerick said. “We still feel that way about it. It’s really special, we’re going to miss Edgartown.”
The store is actually one of more than 150 shops the couple have owned and managed over the years, including another incarnation of In the Woods in Bar Harbor, Maine, which they will continue to operate.
From store to store, Mr. Fitzgerald learned the business by trial and error, he said.
“A store is a subtle thingit takes a tremendous attention to detail,” he said. “I failed at many of my stores, I’ve tried this and I’ve tried that, but on the 10 per cent or so you succeed with you reach somebody and you build a clientele and that’s what we’ve done here.”
There have been a few things that have made the business work for the past 30 years, said Ms. Cerick and Mr. Fitzgerald — the employees, keeping technology to a minimum, having as few suppliers as possible, and their loyal customers.
“We wish there was an atmosphere that could retain stores like this so we could afford to stay here,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “I love retail, I’ve done it for 50 years. And I enjoy it. I enjoy the challenge of how you display things to make people interested and it’s a constant challenge. Like yesterday I was in trying to decide what can I do to make those utensils all sell out at the end of the year.”
The closing of In the Woods comes in the wake of stratospheric rent hikes along Main street and elsewhere on the Vineyard.
Mr. Fitzgerald said that their annual rent has increased from around $32,000 when they first opened to close to $140,000 a year.
“How do you handle that? How do you handle it if you have maybe 100 good days, that means your rent is $1300, $1400 a day — there’s no way,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “Maybe they can do it with clothing stores, but not with these kinds of items that we have. It’s impossible.”
Mr. Fitzgerald and Ms. Cerick said the store has not made a profit in the past five years, and Ms. Cerick joked about charging admission to the store. They’ve kept their doors open because they love what they do.
“People appreciated the store and that meant a lot, more than money,” Ms. Cerick said. “We had to get our rewards somewhere else rather than the dollar.”
Mr. Fitzgerald pointed to a “corporate paradigm” that doesn’t allow for a small arts and craft business to thrive, especially in Edgartown. He said the town has become fragmented and specialized with a high concentration of clothing stores because they are the only ones that can afford the rent prices. There are now nearly 50 clothing stores within the downtown village. He suggested setting up a business improvement district to help encourage business diversity.
“You need to keep the uses mixed and together, not separate them, not put the business district out there and no convenience stores in here,” he said. “That whole element is lost.”
Mr. Fitzgerald and Ms. Cerick hope there will be a final holiday season rush and they are enjoying the chance to say goodbye to their loyal customers.
“We’ve had generations come through here, we’re meeting adults coming in and saying, ‘I’ve never forgotten when I came in and rode on that horse,’” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “There’s something special about that.
There have been many staples of the store – the canoe hanging off the wood beams, the larger than life Afghani doors, the wooden trinkets – but rocking horses have always been prominent. They’ve sold many over the years, but the one currently in the store, known as Golden Boy, has been there for the past five years. He’ll be going back with them to their home in Chilmark when they leave Edgartown.
On Wednesday morning, the couple took a ride on the horse together for the first time. They climbed on top of it and rocked gently back and forth.
“I guess you can call it our final ride,” Mr. Fitzgerald said.