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Moore: Benny’s Sad, Market-Driven Demise

Monday, September 11, 2017


A wise person once told me that if I wanted to understand people’s motivations, I should watch what they do, and ignore what they say.

Words lie. Actions reveal. That’s valuable advice.

So behind all of the sorrow and the nostalgia that I’ve heard over the news that Benny’s, the iconic Rhode Island-based retail chain with stores in Connecticut and Massachusetts, is closing, I cannot help but realize that the decision is basically a reaction to market forces.

All markets are efficient, but not all businesses are. When a business lacks the ability to properly respond to the efficiencies that the market dictates, the business will eventually close.

It’s always disappointing to see a once great business close. Don’t get me wrong: I will miss watching a stock boy wearing a white dress shirt and a necktie helping my carry the heavy cement or play sand that I might be buying just as much as the next guy. I’ll also miss seeing the large paper signs that read “Bike Sale” or “Tire Sale”. (I always found it cool that you could always count on Benny’s having either a bike or tire sale at all times.)

But as times change, so do people’s needs and priorities. Unfortunately, people simply aren’t spending enough money at Benny’s to make the business model work anymore.

Shifting Market

Yet some people are suggesting that the 700 other people who work there, who aren’t ready to retire and would like to continue working there, should collectively buy the company and make a go of it. That’s not a reasonable option.

Here’s how Arnold Bromberg, a great guy by anyone’s estimation, sees the situation, as he pointed out in a press release.

“It is also important to all of us that our community knows that this is a calculated business decision based on our knowledge of the retail industry and where it is going in the future. That future is not so bright for small, family-owned chains like ours. We’ve lived and breathed this way of doing business for a long time, but we could not, in good conscience, leave the business to the next generation of our family when these market conditions would so clearly conspire to work against them,” said Bromberg.


Unfortunately, as Bromberg points out, the market won’t support the Benny’s model, regardless of who owns the company.

What made Benny’s so attractive was the friendly personalized service from the company’s store employees, and the convenience of not being forced to walk around a massive store like Target or Walmart. When you needed something at Benny’s and asked an employee, he or she would walk you directly over to the item--not dismissively point you to some other department a 5-minute walk away. That was cool. Like so many folks, I didn't mind paying a tiny bit more for my products in exchange for the convenience and awesome customer service offered by Benny's. 

For some reason, that convenience must not be as important to people today as it was previously.

Nobody knows for sure, but I’m guessing that the Amazon factor neutralized the convenience factor that Benny’s offered and for nearly 100 years. It’s even easier to click a mouse and a keypad than it is to go to Benny’s.

Thanks for the Memories

I’m just as nostalgic as the next guy. The Benny’s announcement has me thinking about my favorite purchase the chain. For me, it has to be the beach products that I would pick up with my grandparents at the Dennis Port, MA location on Cape Cod when I was a child. That certainly brings back some fun memories.

What say you, dear reader? What was your most memorable Benny’s visits or purchases? Leave comments or send an email.

Russell J. Moore has worked on both sides of the desk in Rhode Island media, both for newspapers and on political campaigns. Send him email @[email protected] Follow him on twitter @russmoore713.


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