Historic M. Crow holds off closing after strong summer sales

<I>Jennifer Hobbs/for the Chieftain</I><BR>The camera rolls as Arnold Schaeffer and Dorothea Schaeffer-Stephens recount memories of M. Crow's from past years.

Thanks to unusually strong summer sales and an encouraging array of prospective buyers, M. Crow & Company of Lostine has decided to hold off on the liquidation process and continue business as usual.

"With all the activity we're having, we're going to stay open as long as we have that elusive profitability," said Doug Crow of the respite.

Family members are doing most of the work at the store at this point, as staff was trimmed in anticipation of the closure. This put them on the front line for an outpouring of community support that shifted the balance sheet firmly back into the black and the family's outlook from survival to optimism.

"Everywhere I go, people want to know about what's happening with the store," said Melanie Crow. "People tell me 'we just can't lose you!' It's given us a stronger sense of community and a realization of how much we're appreciated."

One unexpected outcome of the stressful situation is that the store is actually increasing the amount of groceries they're stocking in response to customer feedback. Another benefit is that a number of interesting business ideas have emerged as the store's future is discussed.

"People have some good ideas that are just naturals for the store," said Crow. "I think we're going to find a buyer, and I'm optimistic at this point that the store will not just continue, but thrive."

In addition to bumping customer awareness, the threatened closure drew the attention of Robert Vinatieri of Tigard, Oregon, an amateur videographer whose own family hardware store closed years ago under similar circumstances.

Keenly aware of his own family's lost opportunity to connect to the past, Vinatieri assembled a small team, including himself, Dann Murray (video), and Chris Ransdell (audio), to document the store's history and treasures. They spent two days conducting more than 20 in-depth interviews and capturing the store's hundreds of antiques in digital format.

"When my family's hardware store closed in South Dakota, no one took the time to document," said Vinatieri. "I did not want yet another unique piece of life in the USA to leave us without preserving it visually and verbally."

The project is a gift, said Vinatieri, who expects that the 8.5 hours of film will primarily be used by the family and its subsequent generations as a reminder of their heritage.

Interviews centered on memories and experiences of shopping at the store, and included customers ranging from 22 - 92 years old, some of whom have been patrons of Crow's for more than half a century. Vinatieri noted that multiple people commented that the store sells items they just can't get anywhere else.

Underscoring that point, during one afternoon of filming, Vinatieri watched Doug Crow sell a range of items that included fence insulators, cake mix, pipe fittings, and #5 horseshoe nails, all the while swapping anecdotes and catching up on the latest news. You just can't do that at Wal-Mart, he said.

"It really is the soul of the community and a tangible thread connecting the 21st century with that of our pioneers," said Vinatieri. "It makes one realize that with this store gone, residents would lose a very physical and visual piece of their own recent past. I'm hopeful that the Crows can keep the store going just a bit longer until another local family can take over!"

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