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Downtown businesses eye changes

By Staff | Jan 15, 2010

Gone. Local potpourri shop The Herb Lady shuttered its Shepherdstown storefront, pictured here, to focus on online retail. Grapes and Grains Gourmet, visible in the reflection behind the red car, will move its operations to the Herb Lady’s vacant Register Building storefront in the next month. Photo by Michael Theis/Chronicle

The Herb Lady has abonded her brick and mortar retail outlet at 110 E. German St. to focus on e-commerce, mail order retail and the wholesale production of Herb Lady brand potporri. The vacancy has set in motion a small series of business relocations, with German Street wine retailer Grapes & Grains Gourmet set to move across the street into the former Herb Lady storefront. A new business is expected to fill the vacancy to be left by Grapes & Grains.

The Herb Lady owner and Shepherdstown-area resident Melissa Lettick said that, in the end, the decision to close shop and focus to e-commerce and mail orders was simple. “I decided to close down the stores and start making money,” said Lettick, adding, “stop losing money is more like it. The store was fun, but when it became a struggle, it wasn’t fun after a while.”

Lettick says that by 2009 the store was being supported by the mail order and e-commerce side of her business. She reports that large overhead costs associated with renting a storefront ($1,500 per-month in rent and insurance clashed with a noticable drop in consumer spending. “People who used to buy a candle are now only buying a card,” She says.

As the economy was tanking, however, her website sales and mail-orders started taking off. She credits the success of her mail-order sales to a 2008 website redesign and advertising with Google Marketing. The result, says Lettick, was a fivefold increase in online orders.

Now Lettick will only be selling what she makes, her Herb Lady brand potporri. She says the profit margin is much higher for a producer, rather than a retailer, who has to sell products bought from others.

The departure of The Herb Lady from German Street marks the end of an era for the popular meat-space retailer, which had a 30 year history in the region. Lettick opened her first store in 1981 in Shippensburg, Pa. By 1983, she was operating out of Harpers Ferry, and in 1995 she expanded to the Shepherdstown location. At it’s height, Lettick says, The Herb Lady employed 10 people, working out of three stores in Shepherdstown, Harpers Ferry, and Frederick, Md.

German Street spirits retailer Grapes and Grains Gourmet will be taking up the vacancy left by The Herb Lady, with doors opening for business at the start of February. Grapes and Grains owner and Shepherdstown resident Cheryl Gallery is excited about the prospect of moving into a larger storefront.

“I’m having trouble accomodating for my small shop,” said Gallery, anticipating the move. “There are so many more wines I want to sell, I’ve analyzed all the wines we carry, all of our wines sell, so we can’t eliminate. We just need more space.”

She says her goal is to hire more workers, and plans on adding another cash register and a new beer fridge. Gallery says that there are certain tradeoffs, for instance her rent will increase by $250.

Gallery reports that her customers are excited about the move. “It’s a sign that someone’s making it.” Says Gallery, “it’s like hope that we won’t be in the doldrums that we’ve fallen into for too much longer.”

Brian Masemer, Martinsburg Realtor and owner of the Register Building says that he’s happy to have a new tennant so quickly, but he added that he’s sad to see The Herb Lady depart. “The Herb Lady had been in retail for 30 years, it makes me really think ‘wow, what a deep recession.” Masemer is primarily a residential landlord, the two storefronts in the Register Building are his only business rentals.

A new business is expected to take over the vacancy left by Grapes and Grains at 111 E. German St., but details on what that business is or when it will open are scarce. Phone calls to the owner of 111 E. German St. were not returned by press time.