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Main Street Kitchens Owners Put Business on the Market

  • Conrad Reining, of Thetford, Vt., walks out of Main Street Kitchens on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017, after buying a welcome mat for his wife at the kitchen store in Hanover, N.H. Mary and Marv Schouten, who own the store, have put their business up for sale. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • From left, Lisa Newcity, of Canaan, N.H., Mary Schouten, of Grantham, N.H., Kathleen Farrell, of Norwich, Vt., and Marv Schouten, also of Grantham, all work at Main Street Kitchens on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017, at the store in Hanover, N.H. Mary and Marv Schouten, who own the store, have put their business up for sale. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Salt and pepper shakers seen on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017, at Main Street Kitchens in Hanover, N.H. Mary and Marv Schouten, who own the store, have put their business up for sale.(Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Kathleen Farrell, left, of Norwich, Vt., prepares to wrap gifts with Lisa Newcity, of Canaan, N.H., while working at Main Street Kitchens on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017, at the store in Hanover, N.H. Farrell said she helped with the business's inception about 21 years ago and Newcity said she was the last person hired at the store about 11 years ago. "We haven't hired anyone since," says Mary Schouten, owner of Main Street Kitchens. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Business Writer
Sunday, December 17, 2017

Hanover— Main Street Kitchens has been a mainstay on Hanover’s South Main Street, but owners Mary and Marv Schouten are moving on.

This Christmas season — the 21st for the Schoutens — will be their last. The Schoutens are retiring from owning and running their kitchen, bath and housewares store and have put the business up for sale.

“Mary and I have been here 20 years and we both have turned 65, and those are nice round numbers. So, yeah, we’re retiring,” Marv Schouten said. “It’s been a great run and we’ve had a lot of fun.”

In an age when people increasingly shop on the internet and via their smartphone, Main Street Kitchens — with its unrushed atmosphere and well-stocked shelves of kitchenware and cooking tools and utensils — is a reminder of a more genteel era in retailing.

It’s a little bit old-school — the Schoutens have never sold online or adopted a computerized point-of-sale system at the sales counter — but the couple and their customers don’t mind. Besides, the tech-obsessed approach to retailing may not be all its hyped to be for store owners, they said.

“Both of us hate computers. I can barely keep up with the website email,” Mary Schouten said last week from her desk tucked in the store’s lower-level storage room. “And we talked with other kitchen stores that sell online and they say it’s not all that lucrative.”

For sure, the Schoutens have witnessed dramatic changes in the retail business and customer tastes over their two decades of selling everything from Le Creuset cooking pots to Henckels knives to April Cornell table linens. The store carries products from more than 500 different suppliers, but since the Great Recession they have noticed some shifts in what customers want.

“We don’t stock as many high-end things anymore,” Mary Schouten said, like “ridiculously expensive espresso machines from Italy” that cost as much as $700.

And the store used to do a brisk trade in bridal registries, but that business has nearly all gone online. “Even our own daughter registered online,” Mary Schouten noted.

One thing that hasn’t disappeared from Main Street Kitchens, however, is 14-pound LuLu, a white, short-haired “mutt” with a “little bit of an underbite” who has wandered the shop floors since she was a puppy nine years ago and has both upstairs and downstairs sleeping beds in the store. The 3,700-square-foot store is divided between a street-level space that displays kitchenware and utensils and a basement-level space that focuses on bath and household items.

“We pared it down to what people need in their homes, less frivolous,” Mary Schouten said. “We evolved into something other than a kitchen store. We now sell rugs, bath (supplies), a line of lady handbags. We probably have the largest selection of shower curtains in the Upper Valley. When you’re in business as long as we are, you have to find ways” to stay current.

The Schoutens opened Main Street Kitchens mid-career. Originally from the Midwest, they moved to the Upper Valley from Connecticut to raise a family and where Mary Schouten came to work as a social worker.

For 10 years prior to opening the store, Mary Schouten worked at the former Homescapes store in the PowerHouse Mall in West Lebanon while Marv Schouten, who had trained in labor relations, stayed at home to raise their two daughters and coach sports.

It was at Homescapes that Mary Schouten discovered her passion for selling and helping customers find exactly what they are looking for. Williams-Sonoma had caught the flowering of the American home cuisine market in the 1980s and introduced a generation of consumers to quality kitchenware through its retail stores and mail-order catalog, and similar stores were opening up around the country.

Eventually, the Schoutens decided to branch out on their own.

“We always had this dream of owning our own business,” Marv Schouten said. “We actually looked around for a few years and almost bought a similar business in the Upper Valley, but decided not to because the kids were too young and this was a huge commitment. We waited until the kids entered middle school” — the Schoutens lived on Bragg Hill Road in Norwich at the time — “and we always knew we wanted to be on Main Street in Hanover, but had to wait until the right spot opened up.”

The Schoutens have listed their business for sale with Country Business Inc., a New England business broker that also handled the 2013 sale of kitchenware store Board & Basket in the Powerhouse Plaza in West Lebanon. The asking price is $90,000 for the business, which generates cash flow of $113,000 on revenue of $800,000, according to a listing on the broker’s website.

“Well established business with a strong customer following among residents, businesses and tourists,” the listing notes, and points out that a new owner could lead Main Street Kitchens into a new era. “There are a number of opportunities to meaningfully grow the business with minimal capital investment. With limited attention directed at marketing and advertising in the past, there is ample opportunity to increase overall awareness and attract new customers.

“The implementation of an inventory management system and allowing for online purchases through the website would enhance both sales volume and margins. Expanding the product line, partnering with local businesses, and holding events and demos present additional opportunities to grow,” it reads.

Although they haven’t embraced the demands of modern retailing, the Schoutens said their business nonetheless has done very well over the years thanks to an extremely loyal customer base — both area residents and the influx of Dartmouth College parents or visitors attending sporting events. They also credit the service of their two longtime employees, Sara Gormley, who has been with Main Street Kitchens since it opened, and Lisa Newcity, who has been with the store for 10 years.

“I couldn’t have done it without them,” Mary Schouten said.

“They made it easy for us,” Marv Schouten said.

Operating one of the few culinary stores in the Upper Valley meant the occasional celebrity would come through the doors, Mary Schouten said.

Aerosmith lead singer and Sunapee resident Steven Tyler has visited several times, and the late Bob Keeshan, a Norwich resident also known as Captain Kangaroo, also was a patron. So, too, was the reclusive novelist J.D. Salinger, who lived in Cornish. “A regular,” Mary Schouten said, “but any time a customer approached him he was out of here.”

“But we never got any big politicians,” she said, remembering with disappointment the time last fall when Bill Clinton, who was campaigning for his wife, Hillary, visited Lou’s Restaurant and Bakery next door — “they all go to Lou’s” — but evidently wasn’t in the market that day for a kitchen utensil. “He was right at our back door!” Mary Schouten laughed.

People shifting to the internet for their purchases “obviously” affected some sales, Marv Schouten said. But that’s not the reason for their retirement. “When people hear we’re leaving (the assumption is), ‘Oh, you can’t compete online.’ But we’re leaving because of our age and it’s time. We’ve held up remarkably well. … In the future things are going to have to change a little bit, but at 65 we feel we’re not going to make that change.”

As for what’s next, the Schoutens, who moved from Norwich to Eastman in Grantham three years ago, said they plan to enjoy retirement. Marv said he has “fairly large gardening plans,” and Mary is looking at volunteering. They both hope to spend more time in a warmer climate during the winter months — “We are increasingly not enjoying winter,” he said — and a reprieve from work during the holidays.

“For the first time we will be able to enjoy the Christmas season and not be totally stressed,” Marv Schouten said.

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.