BALTIMORE (TWH) – In many regions of the United States of America it appears that big time retail might be in big time trouble. Some of the best-known names in the brick and mortar retail sector are closing stores or going out of business entirely.
Shopping mall staples such as Payless shoe stores, Victoria’s Secret, and Foot Locker are shuttering stores or closing down. The Gap, once the go-to store for millions of fashion-conscious youth across the country, is in the same boat. Department store chain J.C. Penny is struggling to stay both relevant and solvent while Sears, the one-hundred-thirty-two year old one-time giant of American retail, continues to close locations after declaring bankruptcy. Even Starbucks Coffee is not immune from this retail malaise resulting from online competition.
The national outlook for small businesses is better, but still fraught with uncertainty. Still there are exceptions- brick and mortar businesses doing well within the growing internet realtil economy. One of those exceptions is your friendly neighborhood witch shop.
“My business is doing better than it ever has,” said Debbie Foley, shop owner and founder of Mystic Moon of Norfolk in Norfolk, VA. In the twenty-one years she’s been in business she has seen the decline of big retail in her area, though the overall current business climate feels positive to her. “The retail climate in Coastal Virginia seems stable, except for the big stores that are closing across the country, like Toys R Us, Sears, Macy’s and the others, we have had a Sam’s club that closed a couple of years ago. Stores seem busy here most of the time.”
Jesse Bishop, owner of Finding Avalon in Camden, DE, has had a similar experience. “We are seeing growth in the small business sector but decline in the big box sector,” said Bishop. “Several major retailers have closed in our area in the last two years.”
Bishop, who describes his business as, “a multi-faceted spiritual supply,” and has been open since 2015, reported that his business has increased by, ‘an average of about thirty percent over the last two (years).” He attributes his success to an emphasis on customer service and relationship building. “With each connection created, a new referral is probable. Merchandising and cleanliness are equally important to the shop’s success. Additionally, I feel investment in new and different product lines keeps the interest of established customers.” He also reports that the store is attracting new customers at a high rate, estimating that fifty to seventy-five percent of his weekly business is with first-time customers or customers who have only recently begun to frequent the shop.
In Norfolk, Foley, a High Priestess and Clan Mother who also is the coordinator for the local Pagan Pride Day, has seen the same dynamic at work in her shop. “For many years it was largely only the pagan community as clientele. That seems to be fading away the last couple of years, now it seems to be everyone, from all walks of life, old, young, all races, genders.” When asked what she believes to be behind the influx of new customers, Foley stated, “I think the increase of my business is the desire for some kind of positive energy, needed by mainstream people.”
Lisa Anderson, owner of Asheville Raven & Crone in Asheville, NC, has been operating in a slightly different environment.
“The general retail business in Asheville is healthy,” explained Anderson. “Asheville has always been a popular tourist destination and independent shops have been part of the tourist attraction. The last several years has seen an increase in chain stores in the popular downtown tourist area. These stores and other big retailers in the area seem to benefit from a tourist driven economy.” Small businesses have shared in the region’s success. “Since opening (in 2014), Asheville Raven & Crone has experienced consistent and continued growth,” said Anderson.
In Laurel, MD, Sterling Galen Foxmoore, owner of The Crystal Fox, also sees many positives in his region, even though his store is located one mile north of the site where a once-bustling shopping mall was recently razed and repurposed.
“Locally, I would say business is pretty good for most businesses,” said Foxmoore, who has been in business at his present location since 1991. “Although I haven’t talked to everyone, I get the impression that things are good bordering on great for many local businesses. Our business has increased every year since we opened with almost no exceptions.”
Like Foley and Bishop, Foxmoore and Anderson have been seeing a steady flow of new customers visiting their shops. “Every day, every month, every year we basically see fifty percent returning customers and fifty percent new customers,” said Foxmoore. “I attribute our success to continual reinvestment in inventory and display.”
All four of the store owners interviewed mentioned the importance of serving the needs of both their established clientele and customers who are visiting a witch shop for the first time. “From newly interested individuals to seasoned practitioners, the customer base is broad,” explained Bishop. “Services are available for clients needing a little more assistance; candle-dressing, custom blending of oils or herbs, and preparing mojo bags are options one can access here. Intuitive readers, psychics, teachers, and energetic healers contract to work from the shop and are available several days a week.”
“Comfortable seating areas are strategically placed throughout the shop to allow customers to sit and enjoy a cup of locally-crafted tea or organic coffee from the kitchen while conversing with other patrons.” Similarly, Anderson attributes her successful business to, “a dedicated staff of, ‘witches’, and serving as a community center, a classroom, and a safe space for people who are interested in or practicing alternative religions,” as well as the support of her local pagan community.
According to Anderson, that support is one of the main drivers behind new customers visiting her store. “New customers typically are referred by friends, practitioners who travel to the area and do not have a pagan store in their own community, and those who are curious about earth religions and don’t know where to start.”
Foley stated that more and more people are coming into the store for advice and readings these days. “[There are] a lot of people just beginning to awaken to it,” she said. “Self-care is on the rise,” added Foxmoore, noting that customers are coming to the store for both general advice and specific products at about the same rate as he has become accustomed to over the last few years.
Anderson described a sizable segment of new clientele as, “younger people seeking a spiritual practice that is more in alignment with their personal beliefs, such as care of the earth and inclusion of all like-minded people.” That yearning for alignment and meaning may be among the reasons that metaphysical and esoteric stores are thriving in a business climate that only seems to be getting worse for so many major national retail chains.
The nature of the witch store–and that of many witches–might be another component. “A witch is a tactile, emotional being,” said Julia Viars, a thirty-something Baltimore hedgewitch in who has been patronizing metaphysical shops for as long as she can remember. “We need that connection to our art, to our Gods, and to our materials. I need to go to my local pagan shop and feel the energy within my tools. I need to handle each stone so it can speak to me and I know if it will balance with my intention I am casting for. Even the energy I gain from a shopping trip is manifested in the power that awakens within my casting.”
The experiences of these stores show a trend very different than those of struggling retailers. More people are looking for spaces to help them find a center for themselves given all the challenges of daily life. That makes witch shops competitive in a different way very different from other retailers. Foley summed it up: “I see all kinds of folks really trying to improve their spirituality and life in general.” These stores meet that need.