How on Earth?

By Pamela Denholm

Today is a sad day. Over my morning coffee, I found out that the store and cafe, ‘How on Earth‘ in Mattapoisett is closing down effective Labor Day. Owners Margie and Michael Baldwin sent out a poignant letter announcing their decision:

“We have had 10 fairly challenging years running How On Earth, attempting to demonstrate to our neighbors in Southeast Massachusetts that eating local organic food is a very wise decision, generating dramatically better health. Happily many of you have responded and joined in that “campaign” which is the most gratifying result of this huge effort on our part. But we believe that the struggle to become sustainable is just too much of a burden at this time in our lives, and given the growing awareness about local, organic food and the burgeoning grassroots demand for it, with the contribution we believe we have made towards that awareness, we have elected to close shop.”

I don’t know Margie and Michael personally. I have visited the store multiple times, and enjoyed delicious fresh sandwiches from their cafe.  The store was delightful and filled with rustic charm, beautiful food from local farms, local artisan products, and a thoughtful selection of cleaning and household products.

I know some of the challenges whereof they speak. For us, meal kit companies have put a large dent in our numbers. Online ordering and delivery of fresh food has become a much noisier space with companies like Amazon, Overstock, Whole Foods, and Stop and Shop all trying to get in on the action and going head to head with us for market share. In the last two or three years, we have seen a dramatic change in how corporate companies are engaging their customers on the subject of food, too. It is a rapidly evolving platform, and a very challenging environment for us to stay competitive in without the resources that these weighty corporates can put behind marketing, advertising, and slick websites. We are just the little guy.

The loss of ‘How on Earth’ is a big one for our community. We, as a community, will be losing ground on Labor Day.

We are losing character, mom and pop stores speak about who we are, they tell us about our history, they add value, depth, and dimension to our community. They spend locally, they support local initiatives, they are neighbors. Without them, we are faceless.

We are losing a voice. On Labor Day, it will be a little harder for us to speak up and be heard. Without the community of common interests built around stores like How on Earth, we are just individuals. Without a platform on which to stand, it becomes harder to unite, to be seen, to be heard.

We are losing power, or rather, we are disempowered. With a store like How on Earth, operated by a small business owner and run on principals and ethics, you can say what your needs are, and get a response. You can talk about products you like and don’t like. You do not have the same power with corporations and online companies who make choices for profits and gains. Corporations who answer to boards of directors and shareholders first, before customers.

We are losing a local market place. We are losing a trading post which farmers and other small artisans counted on. We are losing a place for farmers and artisans to connect to their community.

how on earth

I understand the Baldwin’s decision. I do. No one can say ‘should have would have’ because to be a small business owner in today’s world you need to be make sacrifices, be brave, be committed, and work harder than you will ever work at anything else, ever. I am sad for them, because I know how hard this decision must have been after ten years. I am sad for our community. What a loss. And I am sad for me, because the landscape of family owned businesses invested in their community just got a little lonelier.

We bid the How on Earth store, the owners and hard working staff farewell, with our gratitude for all they have done to make a meaningful impact on where we live.

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