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EDITORIAL: Spirit that created The Merc is still alive and thriving

In 2001, the people of Powell made it clear: They wanted a clothing store downtown.

From that determination came the Powell Mercantile, which opened its doors in 2002. For more than a decade, it provided a place for Powell residents, people from other communities and visitors to shop.

But The Merc, as the store is known, fell on hard times in recent years. In December, the board of directors voted unanimously to close it down.

But it turns out the same will, the community spirit that created The Merc, is still alive. At a meeting Thursday night, shareholders voted overwhelmingly to keep the store open.

The Merc was created after Stage Stores shut its doors in 2001. It was the second retail outlet that had failed at that location and it seemed that a clothing store was not going to work in Powell.

Locals felt otherwise. They agreed to buy 800 shares, at $500 apiece, in a campaign that carried into 2002. The store then opened and gained national attention, showing what a determined community could do.

The Merc has been a point of pride in Powell.

However, sales have slumped in the last few years, and The Merc was unable to attract enough shoppers. Board members said proceeds had dropped 25 to 30 percent and they did not see a way to keep it open.

So they called for a meeting with a central item to discuss: Close The Merc. It was held on a bitterly cold night, and the future of the store seemed dim.

But something happened that really shouldn’t surprise us. Powell stood up and said it wanted to work and battle to keep the store open.

A motion to dispose of all assets was defeated 277-114. A second one to dissolve the corporation was defeated 261-117. Those are strong signs of support.

In a way, The Merc is as much a concept, a belief in the power of community, as it is a business. The results of Thursday’s meeting certainly indicate that.

Merc shareholder Carolyn Danko observed that The Merc was “started for all the right reasons,” and those reasons remain relevant today.

The Merc preserves shopping opportunities in downtown Powell at a time when the retail mix is losing out to eating establishments and professional offices. The Merc is vital to a vibrant downtown.

We thank the former board members for their service. As two of them admitted at the meeting, they are burned out and did not see a path to proceed. They did the correct thing by allowing others to take a crack at this.

A new board has stepped up and offered to try to find a solution. Marcia Martin, Cindy Jacobs, Martin Garhart, Toby Bonner and John Wetzel have expressed belief in The Merc. Bonner is the Tribune’s co-owner, general manager and advertising manager and Wetzel, the City Council president, is also affiliated with the newspaper.

These people are willing to make the effort to return The Merc to profitability.

But now it’s up to you. If you want the store to remain open, you have to make that clear by shopping there.

The new board is still hammering out ideas. No more shares may be sold, but one option is offering an annual membership. For $100, members of The Merc Club, or whatever it will be called, would be offered four to six special sales.

The shareholders voted Thursday to ask for the return of a $75 dividend that was awarded in 2008; mailers will be sent out to all investors asking for that show of support. Some returned the money during the meeting — and a few gave back more than they received.

The goal is to provide The Merc with enough capital to keep going. The spring order was canceled in preparation for closing the store, so the new board has to decide how it will order items for its customers.

We also encourage you to do your part. The people of Powell made the store a reality more than a decade ago, but then did not show enough support for it in the following years.

But when it came time to close the doors and call it quits, enough people rose up to revive The Merc. The next goal is to keep it alive and thriving.

This spirit of community worked in The Merc’s early years, and it resurfaced on Thursday. Now it’s up to the people in charge to make the store a viable, profitable enterprise. We wish them luck.

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