LANCASTER — For years, Simon The Tanner anchored the downtown commercial district.
That ended on Labor Day.
At 3:26 p.m. on Monday, the final customers walked out, the doors were locked, and the store ended its 20-year presence on Main Street.
Co-manager Larry Massé said the decision boiled down to simple economics. The business had been weakened by online competition, like Amazon.com, and then the pandemic hit.
“Just like a lot of small businesses in the retail realm, we’re competing with large corporations. All the online stuff, that hit us really hard. And then of course COVID came in, and that was the last straw,” he said.
Earlier this year, owners The Twelve Tribes made the decision to close the business and sell the historic Chesley Block building.
A clearance sale was announced last month, which drew a significant response. The store offered steep discounts, with sale prices up to 60 percent off.
Asked if he was disappointed, Massé said no. He called the business closing a new beginning, and a chance for The Twelve Tribes to return to its roots.
Said Massé, “We’re very happy with the way it was. But we’re very happy with the direction we’re going in. We always say, the greater glory is still ahead.”
The sale of the Chesley Block is “in process” and could be finalized by the early fall.
Meanwhile, the Twelve Tribes will retain ownership of the neighboring Simonds Block where they will open a Yellow Deli (the Twelve Tribes eatery with over 20 locations worldwide) and a general store (which would sell Twelve Tribes products, like tea and soap, and a limited selection of working-class items, such as socks and work boots).
“We want to go back to our fundamentals,” Massé said. “Originally when we first opened [Simon The Tanner], we were a discount store. We were trying to meet the economic needs of the community. And so it was working very well. Then it grew into a big huge shoe and clothing store. And it was still good for quite a while. [But] we started seeing that we want to be ‘us,’ and not try to be the big Merrill store. And so that’s what we’re going back to, being us.”
The Chesley Block was badly damaged in a 1987 fire and sat vacant for over a decade until it was purchased by the Twelve Tribes.
The group made significant renovations to the prominent building, located at the intersection of Main and Middle streets.
Ultimately, the Twelve Tribes turned the building into a cornerstone of Lancaster’s downtown resurgence, and Simon The Tanner was among the first businesses to reinvigorate the center business district.
Said former Town Manager Ed Samson about the Twelve Tribes, “They brought a lot to the community.”
Over the past month, Massé said, there was a strong local response. A lot of people turned out for the clearance sale. Many expressed sadness at the business closing.
Massé thanked them for their patronage and made sure to tell them the Twelve Tribes were still invested in Lancaster’s future.
“We keep letting them know we are not running out of town. We are still here and we are going to do something that is great,” he said.