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Recession claims Renton Western Wear as latest victim
Unable to recover from the recent recession, Renton Western Wear struggled in sales during the years following and owners had to make the tough decision to close the family business of 62 years.
As Jerry Kavesh, co-owner with his sister Gina, looks back on the company, he doesn’t blame anyone but the economy for Renton Western Wear’s demise and has fond memories of his experiences with the Renton business.
Last week Gina and Jerry announced they would close the entire company, Renton and Tacoma stores, as well as their online business. Staff learned of the closure last Thursday. There are 27 employees who will be affected by the closure.
Earlier this week, staff at Renton Western Wear stores were busy preparing the stores for the closing sale which opens to the public today (Friday) and continues for 60 days.
On Monday, Kavesh, 50, was in his office in Renton and motioned to a roll of toilet paper on his conference table, saying it was dwindling down because of the amount of tears being shed at the store.
“It’s a family legacy; it’s working with my sister; it’s working with these great employees,” said Kavesh. “It’s not being involved anymore with our stakeholders whether they be vendors, suppliers, our civic community, our business community. It’s just sad.”
The decision to shutter the business that’s been in the family for three generations was an economic one, said Kavesh.
It became apparent about three to five years ago that Renton Western Wear was headed for tumultuous times. As they did their business planning, Kavesh and his sister recognized “some headwinds in the environment that (they couldn’t) change,” he said.
At that time, they set goals for the company that they had to meet in order to stay in business. They reached a lot of those goals, but the world continued to change faster than they could adapt, Kavesh said.
“So where we are is we have major investments to make in the company to be relevant and to go forward,” he said. “We do not see the return on investment for those investments to be satisfactory for the risks taken. So, therefore we’re closing the company.”
Renton Western Wear management has had to deal with the challenges of adapting its business as the minimum wage and medical insurance went up and technology advanced, forcing them to consider updates on their website to be relevant in that arena.
“We don’t pay anybody here minimum wage, but that is the baseline and every time the minimum wage goes up, we need to maintain a separation,” said Kavesh. “So our payroll goes up. We calculate for every three cents that minimum wage changes, we need to generate a 1 percent increase in sales to pay for that difference.”
When benefits are added to the equation, Renton Western Wear is at a 30 to 40 percent payroll disadvantage right from the start, he said.
Also because there is a sales tax in Washington that sends customers online where they know they can save, said Kavesh.
Faced with expensive updates to the Renton Western Wear website, like adding video, mobile and tablet strategies, Kavesh said all those investments would cost lots of money, too.
He doesn’t blame the City of Renton for the company’s predicament, which he sees as a global economy problem.
“The City of Renton - this is my opinion - is maybe the best city to be in,” he said. “This is a great community. The city is so pro-community, pro-business. I mean they really bend over backward to try to make for a good strong environment to do business in and live in.”
Kavesh has been involved in city and community organizations over the years. He owns property in town, including the Renton store building, which he suspects they will lease, but no decision has been made. He is on the board of Renton River Days and a commission to improve downtown; he plans to continue with both.
Reaction to Renton Western Wear’s departure at City of Renton offices was concern and sadness.
“It’s truly unfortunate that Renton Western Wear will be closing its Renton and Tacoma stores this month,” said Mayor Denis Law via email. “This company has been a valued icon in Renton for the past 62 years and will definitely be missed. Jerry Kavesh, and his sister, Gina, have been dedicated business leaders in this community, while also supporting many local events and service organizations. The retail business has been very challenging in recent years, and the loss of a major merchant downtown like Renton Western Wear will be felt for some time. The city looks forward to partnering with the chamber and existing business and property owners as we make a renewed commitment to help revitalize the downtown corridor.”
Chip Vincent, city community and economic development director, echoed similar sentiments.
“It’s not just this departure; it’s any departure,” Vincent said. “Anytime a business closes or moves out of downtown Renton, we worry. It’s not just one business it’s any business.”
Vincent plans to ask Kavesh for the details of the company closure.
“I want to be able to ask him that question,” he said. “I want to know if there is anything we could have done, what would that be.”
For now, Renton Western Wear will begin selling all of its clothing, boots, gifts and even retail infrastructure like boot-stretchers, hat-shapers, merchandise racks and pictures.
Kavesh isn’t sure what’s next for him. He will take some time off, but he is still trying to figure out what his next chapter is going to be.
“I grew up here,” he said. “I was coming when I was 6, 7 years old; my grandfather ran the business. I was doing homework here when my parents owned the business. I bought the business in ‘86.”
Kavesh and his sister have received a great outpouring of emails, voicemails, Facebook messages and notes from people saying how much they and the company will be missed.
He plans to keep a few knick-knacks with emotional attachments from the store and the rest will be sold.