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After 20 years, Pride & Joy to become online store only

  • Jennifer Harlan, co- owner with Joy Rain of Pride and Joy , in the shop which is closing on Saturday.
  • Items in Pride and Joy which is closing on Saturday.
  • Jennifer Harlan, co- owner with Joy Rain of Pride and Joy , in the shop which is closing on Saturday.

Jennifer Harlan, who co-owns the store with Joy Rain, cited a retail slowdown, Internet pressures, and evolving customer tastes as the main reasons driving the married couple’s decision to close up shop.

The store, which is offering deep discounts on its entire inventory, remains open until 8 p.m. Saturday. Its staff of four to six workers was let go earlier.

“It’s a tough time for retail,” said Harlan as she helped customers at the store’s main counter on Wednesday. “There’s a lot of overhead to having a physical store. We don’t sell enough to support that.”

Pride & Joy is the second established downtown retail store to announce its closing in the past month. The Mountain Goat, which sold outdoor wear and equipment, closed its Main Street store March 30 after 24 years in business. That store’s inventory, including fixtures and equipment, is scheduled to be sold at a May 3 public auction.

At the time of the Mountain Goat’s closing, co-founder Mary Cowell told the Gazette the store could not compete with Internet retailers, big-box stores and warmer winters.

Pride & Joy was founded in 1992 by Martha Nelson and over time became the city’s go-to retail venue for the local gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. During the past decade, the store had been owned by Mark Carmien, a local real estate agent, and was located on Crafts Avenue where it sold books, T-shirts, jewelry, music, DVDs and a variety of unique, gay-friendly, left-leaning and political paraphernalia, some of which was critical of then U.S. President George W. Bush.

“Every time Bush gave a speech, the next day was pretty busy at my shop,” Carmien recalled.

After leaving retail for a career in real estate, Carmien sold the store in 2009 to Melissa Barchardt, Kelly Wagoner and Jeff Wheelock, a trio of friends who moved to the city from Orlando, Fla. Barchardt had said one of the owners’ newest plans was to establish a larger Internet presence, but the store struggled to the point of closing.

As the business declined, Harlan and Rain stepped in and acquired it in 2011. They relocated Pride & Joy to a newly designed space in the basement of Thornes Marketplace where there was more foot traffic. As Carmien did in his own way years earlier, the married couple sought to expand the line of merchandise. They brought in more custom-designed apparel and Northampton gifts and souvenirs to attract a wider customer base beyond the LGBTQ communities.

Among some of the store’s best-selling merchandise has been its “End Bullying” series, which includes T-shirts with that message. Adorning other T-shirts and merchandise is a slogan Harlan and Rain inherited from previous owners: “Northampton, where the coffee is strong and so are the women.” The message gained notoriety in 2005 when William A. Letendre, the city’s former parking director, posted a sign with the message at the entrance to the downtown parking garage.

“We were trying to make the store a celebration of Northampton,” Harlan said. “We were hoping that would broaden the client base enough.”

Harlan noted that demand for rainbow products is down worldwide and clearly so in Northampton, where differences and diverse lifestyles are widely accepted.

“It’s sad,” Harlan said of the store’s last days. “I thought the demand was there and the demand is not there.”

Carmien said there is such a large degree of acceptance of the gay and lesbian community in Northampton that expressing oneself as gay and lesbian isn’t something that people are as focused on here as in other parts of the country.

“I like to say that in this area, people are over the rainbow,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday.

But like Harlan, he said there is still a need for the presence of a store and space like Pride & Joy.

“There are certainly pockets in our community that need a store like this to go to,” he said. “Gay and lesbian youth, adults coming out late in life, the elderly and people new to the area. The shop was always much more than a retail shop. It was also a community center.”

“I give Joy and Jen a lot of credit for keeping the store alive for as long as they could,” he said.

Harlan said she and Rain are now focusing their attention to their online store through Amazon at nohoprideandjoy.com. Harlan said Pride & Joy is anticipating selling much of its custom apparel and perhaps some of its more unique rainbow merchandise, among other products.

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazetttenet.com.

Legacy Comments1

I didn't coin the phrase "Northampton; where the coffee is strong and so are the women". I inherited that phrase from the previous owners, Karen & Beth Bellevance-Grace. I don't know why Dan Crowley thought I coined the phrase - it didn't come from me. Sad news here.

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