Pilot Mountain Pride store shuttered

By Keith Strange

February 20, 2014

Officials say a perfect storm of bad weather coupled with the work involved in running a retail establishment combined to create conditions that made the much-touted Pilot Mountain Pride store in Mount Airy unworkable.

The result?

A “for rent” sign now adorns the front of the newly-renovated Market Street property.

According to Cooperative Extension Director Bryan Cave and Todd Tucker, president of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership, much of the blame can be placed on something out of human control.

“Basically, last year was just a weird year,” Cave said. “It was wet early in the growing season, unseasonably cold and that forced everyone to plant late. Then the fall wasn’t any better.”

The bad growing conditions also made it challenging to keep fresh, local produce in stock at the store, he added.

“We ended up running out of product and closed the store for the season, which is what we’d planned on doing anyway,” he said, noting that the idea behind the store was to teach people about the “seasonality” (sic) of fresh, local produce.

But the amount of work and expense associated with running a retail business came as something of a surprise, Cave conceded.

“We took a look at it from a management perspective, how the year had gone and the fact that a retail business was a new area for us,” he said. “That is something outside of what Pilot Mountain Pride was originally about, so we looked at the viability of it and between trying to do retail and the bad year, it was a tough. It was a bear.”

Tucker noted that the failure of the store, which opened last June, is nothing new.

“Seventy-five percent of small businesses fail, and if they succeed it takes three years to be profitable,” he said. “We went into this as a test, and the theory behind the idea is sound. It was about bringing fresh, local food directly to the consumer, but for us the timing was wrong.”

According to Cave, the decision was made to shutter the business “late last year or early this year.”

“I’m not sure there was a drop-dead moment we decided to do it,” he said. “We started looking at it in October when we closed for the season, but it was the end of the year before a final decision was made.”

With the store closed, Tucker said it is time to refocus attention on the Pilot Mountain Pride center itself.

“We didn’t open the store until the middle of June, so we were kind of behind the eight ball to start with,” he said. “We thought it would be prudent to take a step back, focus on the center and then down the road look and see how it makes sense to do it from a retail standpoint.”

“We learned a lot,” Cave added. “We learned what not to do and we learned that running a small business is challenging.”

Keith Strange can be reached at 336-719-1929 or via Twitter @strangereporter.