From perception to reality what's left at Mickey's is now 30 to 50 percent off. Shoppers keep asking longtime owner/operator Marty Cohen to neatly sum up why his family's 66-year successful business at 239 Main St is closing, but apparently for years the store's Facebook status has been approaching "it's complicated."
Cohen explained, "There's a multitude of reasons why we're closing. But more importantly, for Warren's remaining businesses, we all need to come together to change this perception that downtown Warren is not safe."
Chief among reasons has been a steady decline in black ink as a result of fewer shoppers downtown, but even therein one encounters complexity. Culprits range from bad press over violence downtown all the way to globalization. For example, shuttering steel mills, GE plants in Warren and Niles, and Delphi's lines all together took a big chunk out of Mickey's working class customer base.
"From our inception we were committed to the working man," Cohen asserted.
During each of the half dozen visits I made to Mickey's to gather ideas for this story I routinely overheard the same basic conversation between Marty and nostalgic customers:
"Oh Marty - what happened? It makes me so sad to see Mickey's closing. I used to come down here all the time."
"'Used to come down here' is what happened to Mickey's! Where have you been?"
"We (both Warren and Mickey's) are a microcosm of what has happened across America (economically)," Marty expounded, "so, I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me. I feel young and there's still a fire in my belly(for something new)."
Marty's father started the business upon his return to Warren after fighting in WWII.
After the war there were huge stockpiles of Army and Navy surplus and from these leftovers 100s of Army/Navy stores opened in towns across America. In Ohio at the moment there are three such stores up for sale.
From 1945 until a decade ago this business model was good enough for downtown Warren to support two, not one, Army/Navy surplus stores (Outdoor Army and Navy on Courthouse Square closed in the 1990s).
Army/Navy stores coordinated the purchasing power of independent merchants nationwide to bring working class people around the country good quality American made products, such as work and combat boots, at affordable prices.
Globalization, on the other hand, pits mom and pop stores against CEOs of big box chain stores (and recently Amazon.com), but CEOs are primarily committed to shareholders and maximizing profits even when the free market requires them to outsource local goods and middle class jobs.
Over the last dozen years or so Marty's heartfelt commitment to deliver American-made quality to working folks became untenable, "90 percent of the boot manufacturers are offshore today and the last American flannel shirt factory just closed," lamented Marty, "We always prided ourselves on selling the highest quality American made products at affordable prices."
It feels as if Warren has a front row seat to the end of an era.
But if global corporations have no loyalty to America's middle class, isn't it time for every American to question the loyalty of America's CEOs? If they show disregard for (239) main street, then shouldn't main streets' representatives in Congress close their tax loopholes and enforce all government regulations?
In other words, from coast to coast America's free market zeitgeist has rapidly put the mom and pop commitment to middle class values out of business. Our cost for supporting free markets has never been so steep as we appear to be trading middle class manufacturing jobs for greater corporate profits! Such an economic system creates anything but economic freedom for our middle class.
Oh, and there's only way way to fix it; bring back our manufacturing jobs (YBI and TBEIC) because simply raising minimum wage on the big box stores amounts to printing money and will fix absolutely nothing.
Clearly America needs an economic system complete with checks and balances to regulate powers both public (government) and private (industries) towards the benefit of all strata across society.
I often wonder if our current free market extremism would sit well with the principled men of moderation who founded our constitutional republic. Or as our founding mother, Abigail Adams, once perceived it, "All men would be tyrants if they had the chance."
In reality, it's never too late for us to come together to support main street - let's do it for Mickey.
Herman is a Howland resident. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org