Lullaby Lane's Closure Underscores Persistent Challenges to Small Business

Michael Essany Headshot by Michael Essany on February 23, 2011
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San Bruno, California’s Lullaby Lane was forced to close its legendary doors last weekend after 64 memorable years of operation in the Bay area.

An iconic brand in the world of local small business, Lullaby Lane has long been regarded as a trusted name in infant apparel and furniture. On Saturday, however, the usual cries of the store’s youngest customers were replaced by those of its oldest — shoppers who have patronized the familiar and friendly confines of Lullaby Lane for decades.

Despite promising data released last week by the National Federation of Independent Business suggesting that small business owners are “more optimistic than they’ve been in the past three years,” small businesses like Lullaby Lane, known for selling high quality merchandise not available at ubiquitous big box outlets, continue to struggle in a contemporary business climate far more friendly to large brick-and-mortar retailers and digital storefronts than modest mom-and-pop shops.

No one understands this all-too-common reality better than Barry Gevertz. Barry’s parents, Rosalie and Harold Gevertz, opened Lullaby Lane in 1947, and he took over once they retired. In a message posted on the retailer’s website, Gevertz candidly addresses the obstacles that, regrettably, hastened the end of his family’s business:

The last several years have proven extremely challenging to our business. The downturn in the economy, the increase in internet shopping, Craigslist, eBay, and the growing competition from ‘big box’ stores have negatively impacted our retail business.

Saying that Lullaby Lane became “nostalgic rather than relevant” in today’s retail world, Gevertz and his store have been subjected to no shortage of regional and national media coverage as the closure of Lullaby Lane underscores the unrelenting struggles of the modern small business owner.

“The Internet changed all the rules,” Gevertz told the San Francisco Chronicle. “The sales tax thing played more havoc with us,” Gevertz admitted, pointing to the inherent and controversial advantages of online retailers like Amazon that don’t include sales tax on purchases made over the Internet.

“We felt similar to Borders. We tried this and that. We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars with companies who promised they could develop a website for us that would echo the experience of the store. They failed to deliver, or went out of business,” Gevertz revealed in the story. (The company did not respond to direct requests from the Intuit Small Business Blog.)

The failure of Lullaby Lane to compete in the contemporary retail environment is provoking substantial food for thought among other long-time business owners similarly grappling with how to extend the life of their small business for the next generation.

Unfortunately, there are more complicated questions than there are simple answers to this daunting predicament faced by myriad small business owners.

Ultimately, the closure of respected stores that, over time, had become part of the social and cultural fabric of the communities in which they were located, impacts reality beyond the disappearance of familiar signage and storefronts. According to longtime Lullaby Lane employee Charlene Gamble, a little piece of one’s community also fades away with the loss of a local shopping landmark with deep roots.

“I have taken phone calls,” Gamble told reporters on Lullaby Lane’s final day of business, “from people just calling me to say thank you for our service to the community and for all that Lullaby Lane has done for their generations of family and babies.”

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