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Cruz Bay
Tuesday, September 27, 2022


The foundering Virgin Islands economy has claimed another victim: Kathryn Peterson plans to close the Coach leather goods store on Main Street Aug. 31.
Peterson said the economic downturn has forced her to downsize. She will keep The Leather Shop, her flagship store on the east end of Main Street, and relocate the Sargasso clothing and accessories shop now inside of Coach to another location.
Peterson said the closing will result in "significant staff reductions" but declined to be specific. She employs 24 people, and most staff members have had their hours reduced for the slow summer season.
Many factors contributed to Coach's demise, Peterson said.
"We didn't have any tourism advertising," she said. "And a lot of things that could have happened didn't happen. If we had fixed up downtown, if we had been able to get more of the hotel people to shop downtown, if St. Thomas had competed more effectively with other destinations. . .
"People who came here for years and years have found other places to go. We've sat still without changing and assumed they'd keep coming, but they haven't. People have gotten more active and more interested in a wider variety of things to explore than they used to do."
Further, she said, "the cruise ship people now are different from those we used to get. Many will buy jewelry, because they don't have any way to evaluate it and they believe it's a great buy or an investment, something to leave their children. And most are not particularly sophisticated, so the jewelry stores are doing OK.
"But for someone to buy an expensive handbag, you have to have a lot more expendable income, and we're not getting those kinds of people now. Besides, people's buying habits have changed — lifestyles are more casual — and it affects what I sell."
Coach never met its expectations. In fact, sales figures were only 50 percent of projections, Peterson said, making it impossible to meet high rent and staff expenses.
"It's good to get out now while I can still hold on to the other store," she said.
The shutdown follows other well-publicized Main Street store closings and consolidations since Hurricane Marilyn hit in September 1995, each of them a blow to the territory's economy. The demise of Coach is an added blow because it is one of downtown's upscale showcases — a well-designed and well-appointed shop.
Peterson, who has operated The Leather Shop for a number of years, opened Coach and a Fendi leather goods store in Palm Passage in 1996. Last summer, she closed the Fendi store, opened a Fendi section within the Coach shop and also incorporated Sargasso — which she previously operated at the Ritz Carlton — into the Coach store.
"I tried to consolidate it all there," Peterson said.
She'll now consolidate her main lines — Coach, Tumi, Fendi — at The Leather Shop and seek a less-expensive location for Sargasso.

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