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Hays, Port Madison Home will be missed

John Hays likely won
John Hays likely won't be leaving Bainbridge Island anytime soon, but he will no longer be a strong presence on Winslow Way when he closes Port Madison Home next month.
— image credit: Dennis Anstine/Staff Photo

As families rein in their spending it becomes easier to forego the expense for a new couch in the living room, or an update to the wall ornaments in the dining room. Redecorating is an amenity, one many can’t afford when they are struggling just to pay the bills.

For John Hays the last three years of the recession have taken a toll on his high end furniture store, Port Madison Home. After seven years he announced last Friday that he will be closing the doors to his downtown Winslow store.

“Our business tends to follow real estate, and after a culmination of three tough years we ran out of chances to turn it around,” said Hays. “A business like ours does best when real estate is turning. People will buy when they are moving, selling or changing their spaces. But what we do is also eminently postponable.”

Hays’ store footprint is one of the largest in downtown Winslow, which contributed to the challenges in making a profit, he said. Several empty storefronts have cropped up in recent weeks, due in part to the recession and the beginning of the Winslow Way reconstruction project, which will tear up the downtown streets for eight months.

Hays said his closure wasn’t a direct result of the street project taking place right outside his front door, he knew it wasn’t going to make business any easier.

Hays has been an active voice in the business community. He has encouraged business owners to work together to brand the image of Winslow as a destination shopping center for residents and visitors.

“The toughest thing about running a business downtown is marketing. We can compete on quality and prices, but its hard to make people turn and look our direction when they have big retailers with better margins putting a catalog in your mailbox every week,” said Hays.

Last year Hays put together a series of YouTube videos to encourage the downtown community to develop common business practices such as lengthening store hours in the evening and improving return policies.

Hays wanted islanders to choose shopping on the island rather than elsewhere after businesses marketed themselves as a one-stop shopping experience.

Hays has lived on the island for 28 years, where he raised his family, and hopes to stay. He loves the island and treasures the time he spent in the business community. But he knows the future is uncertain.

“The buy-local thing isn’t just an advertising campaign,” he said, “more than anything the way we relate to one another has changed and the business that we do with one another is part of the fabric of our community. When we make choices one at a time to go elsewhere to save a dollar or two, it’s a choice to change the ways we know one another.”

After spending most of his career in the furniture business, either home goods or corporate sales, Hays doesn’t know where his next paycheck will come from.

“Now when I find work, I don’t know what it will be. I guess I will just have to interpret my skills and experience in someone else’s organization,” he said.

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