It's always painful to see hard-working store owners giving up the retail dream. The latest victim of the economic downturn is handbag designer Jason Loper of Zola Jones Designs, who opened his shop on Montrose and Damen two and a half years ago.
Loper, who carried work by other indie designers as well as his own charming handbags, shopping totes, and clutches, told me last year's sales were way down, and a break-in this summer "broke my spirit a little bit." The thieves took all of $20, but replacing the window and signage cost far more, and perhaps set off a little alarm bell about the fragile nature of the mom-and-pop operating model.
Loper says he'll focus on wholesale and on Internet sales, which have grown exponentially thanks to mentions in the traditional press and on blogs. He admits that working the store six days a week while trying to grow his own line had become overwhelming. "Frankly, I'm exhausted," he said. "It'll be nice to take a step back and build my own brand."
The storefront will close on January 16. In the meantime Loper's offering discounts of 25 to 50 percent on remaining inventory. After next weekend fans will still be able to find his bags at Macy's on State Street and on the Zola Jones Etsy site.