Retro Charlotte

Remembering Bush Stationers

Cotswold Mall in 1972. Bush Stationers between Collins and Wachovia.
Cotswold Mall in 1972. Bush Stationers between Collins and Wachovia. The Charlotte Observer

Here’s some history:



Published: 8/21/1992

“Bush Stationers plans to close at least six of its seven stores by Labor Day, the company's founder and president said Thursday. The retailer, which at its peak had 11 stores around Charlotte and the S.C. coast, has suffered losses for several years and has been looking for a buyer since last fall, Harry Bush said. While a Charlotte business that Bush won't name is considering buying two or three stores, Bush has begun to sell off store merchandise with the intention of closing them as soon as possible. ‘Rather than trying to struggle through the balance of the year, we've decided to liquidate,’ Bush said. The only store Bush hopes to keep open is his newest one, in Cotswold Mall. The Charlotte stores that would close are in University Place, SouthPark mall, Eastland mall, Quail Corners Shopping Center and Park Road Shopping Center. The chain's seventh store, called The Christmas Cottage in Surfside Beach, S.C., will close, too. The recession, new competitors and changing customer buying habits combined to push Bush Stationers into the red, Bush said. ‘People seem today, they don't have time to go from store to store to store,’ Bush said.

“Large retailers such as grocery stores, discount chains and drug stores have recognized this, and added some office supplies and greeting cards. And large office supply stores such as Office Warehouse and Office Depot, with huge buying power and strong financial backing, have been formidable rivals as well. It was different in 1961. Bush was a 21-year-old graduate of Indiana University with all of six months in F.W. Woolworth's management program when his father, Harry, called. His father, who updated old stores for a living, had failed to get two uptown retailers to open an office supply store in the suburbs. ‘Why don't you come on home’ and open one, he remembers his father suggesting. So Bush, whose assets consisted of $750 and a 1957 Mercury convertible, opened a store at Park Road Shopping Center next to the post office. He later traded in the convertible for Bush Stationers stock, but otherwise his father was the major investor.

“As the city crept toward Park Road Shopping Center, Bush Stationers expanded into Cotswold, SouthPark, Eastland and beyond. At one point, the chain had three stores at the S.C. beaches and one in Gastonia. But near the end of the 1980s, the business started losing money. Bush lacked the cash to improve stores, such as adding computers and cash registers to track quick-selling items. ‘We came out of Christmas not able to meet our obligations,’ Bush said. ‘Every time you turned around, it seemed that there was another impediment or obstacle to get around.’ Among the more recent obstacles: Construction around Quail Corners that hurt business. Carolina Place mall lured some customers. The economy stayed moribund. On Aug. 4, Bush told his managers to start preparing for liquidation. On Tuesday, he sent a letter to his creditors, telling them of his intention to liquidate and pay as many of his debts as he can - ‘the hardest letter I've ever had to sign in my life,’ he said. Bush won't reveal other financial information, except to say sales last year ran about $5 million. Now, he hopes that either the Charlotte buyer or another might still emerge to rescue a few stores. Failing that, he hopes his liquidation sale, which will offer 40 percent discounts beginning today, is successful enough to keep the Cotswold store open. ‘It had always been a goal of mine to retire when I got to 55, " said Bush, 53. "That's not going to happen.’”