Store closes amid retail-sector stress
Bermuda’s immigration policy and the high cost of doing business are set to claim another member of the island’s retail sector with the imminent closure of award-winning stationery and gift store Pulp & Circumstance.
Owner Michael Grayston said that the Washington Lane shop is to close on Saturday September 14, putting three full-time staff and two part-time employees out of work.
Mr Grayston took over the running of the business following the death in 2015 of his wife, Kristi, who opened the store in 1996.
He said: “After 23 years in business this has been an agonising decision to make especially as it impacts my all Bermudian staff and their livelihood as well as numerous Bermuda artisans who sold their creations in the shop, but the business is simply not sustainable.”
Mr Grayston added: “After we lost Kristi, it was important to me to keep her legacy going. I knew that she wanted to keep her team employed and wanted the business to survive. We have made every possible effort but business conditions in Bermuda have made it no longer viable.
“After many months of soul searching and reshaping the business model, I have come to the realisation that the business has run its course and sadly it is time to close our doors.”
Mr Grayston said several factors had contributed to the store’s demise.
“In my view, a radical change in Bermuda’s immigration policy would be the most beneficial to our business and the retail sector broadly,” he said. “The loss of thousands of people over the last ten years has impacted all of us. Immigration policy is critical. We simply need more people on the island to support a vibrant retail sector.”
Mr Grayston added: “Along with this, increased taxes on the private sector, exorbitant duty and high payroll costs and overheads have made the traditional bricks and mortar small business retail model unprofitable.”
He said the business has been in steady decline since the global financial crisis began to impact Bermuda in 2009. “We don’t sell anything you need,” Mr Grayston said. “We sell luxury goods, things that are nice to have. A big part of our clientele were the people who left Bermuda.”
In its early days, Pulp & Circumstance was a retail success story. After opening a tiny store on Old Cellar Lane in 1996, the business expanded rapidly. By 2008, it employed 12 staff at two shops in Hamilton, and outlets in Clocktower Mall at Royal Naval Dockyard, and at the airport.
Mr Grayston said Pulp & Circumstance became known for its exquisite engraved and letterpress invitations, stationery, writing instruments for the serious collector and greeting cards along with a unique and sophisticated collection of gifts for any occasion.
Mr Grayston said the business enjoyed a multigenerational clientele, adding that his wife attributed her success to “an impassioned focus on customer service and building long-term relationships with customers who often became friends”.
He said: “Kristi was an all-in, high energy entrepreneur and understood before a lot of retailers that providing an in-store experience was an important component in keeping and attracting new customers. She had a passion for retail and championed all retailers and Bermuda businesses during her time as retail chair, and in her role as president of the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce.”
The two Hamilton stores were consolidated into one operation in 2011. The Dockyard shop, opened in 2005, closed in 2012.
The airport outlet closed in January 2018 when its lease was not renewed. “That was a pretty heavy hit to me,” Mr Grayston said. “It prompted me to do a re-evaluation of the business, and that led me to where I am today, closing it down. Running an independent, one-store operation in Bermuda is very difficult due to the operating costs.”
Pulp & Circumstance is not alone; retail sales figures released last week by the Government Department of Statistics revealed that, year-on-year, retail sales on-island have declined in 14 of the last 15 months.
Mr Grayston said: “I want to make people aware that it’s a challenge to operate in Bermuda. Some people think that retailers make money hand over fist, but I have good relationships with other retailers, and they are all going through the same thing.
“There are a few more business owners who are in the same situation of evaluating a business that is declining, and deciding whether to hang in or not.
“Retail is struggling. If Bermuda wants to retain stores like Pulp & Circumstance, shops that add interest and vitality to the island’s retail sector, then we need to address some of these issues.”
• Pulp & Circumstance will hold a closing sale at its store in Washington Lane, Hamilton until September 14. Hours of operation are 10am until 5pm
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