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Co-op Announces Fashions Closure


Last week (Feb. 5), the Swan Valley Consumers Co-op (SVCC) announced that they would be closing their Fashion Gallery department, with an anticipated end of business at the end of May.
The decision to close the retail institution that has been a part of the SVCC in some form or another for many decades comes after a pattern of ongoing and increasing losses over the last decade, with anticipation that there would be greater losses in the future.
“Closing a service is never an easy decision and never something you want to do, but as a Co-op, we have to ensure that we can continue to offer our core services to members and customers for years to come,” said SVCC General Manager Colin Peters, adding his appreciation for the community support of the department over the years.
The closure of the local clothing department adds to the ever-decreasing number of Co-ops nationwide that still carry fashions.
“Fifteen years ago, there were probably close to a dozen Co-ops that still had fashion departments,” said SVCC Vice President Preston Hartwig. “Now, we are down to half a dozen, so our buying power has shrunk.”
Hartwig added that the Board of Directors has regularly tweaked the business model of the Fashion Gallery for a very long time in an effort to make it profitable in a constantly changing fashion market, but challenges in that industry have made it difficult.
“A lot of manufacturers and distributors, for whatever reason, are refusing to sell to Co-ops,” said Hartwig. “Just because we are a Co-op, it limits who we can purchase from. (That, and our shrinking buying power) are the two biggest challenges that have hampered efforts to make this department profitable.”
Peters added that the increase of e-commerce and fast fashion over the years has made it very difficult to compete in that space, and wasn’t sustainable as a business if they chose to continue.
“There have been some market share decreases in that segment for us, despite doing what we can to always provide high level of service and expertise,” he said. “There have been some change in trends as well as in fabrics and formals. We have noticed that there isn’t as much sewing that happens and styles are more casual. Even weddings are more shirts and pants instead of suits and tuxes.”
Although it isn’t related to the decision to close the Fashion Gallery, the announcement to close the department also coincides with the retirement of long time manager Brian Martin, who has worked for the SVCC since 1981, and has worked 41 years within the Co-op system. His work and expertise in the department was praised.
The SVCC is now planning on opening the soon-to-be vacant space – which consists of approximately 8,000 square feet of retail floor space, plus some warehouse and mezzanine – up for tenant lease, and are looking for offers.
“Anything that is a good fit for the community and for our brand as well,” said Peters. “We want somebody that is a credit to our existing business here on this lot, and ties in well.”
Peters added that he is aware that the closure of the department creates a gap in services in the community, but encourages the public to continue to support other local clothing retailers and other businesses that fulfill similar needs.
“Our first priorities in a situation like this are our members and customers, as well as our employees,” said Peters. “We’ll be looking for opportunities for this department’s team members within our organization. We want to help them with the transition from the department as smoothly as we can.”

Jeremy Bergen