Wednesday , 23 April 2014

Goodbye, Isis

It will be 12 years ago this April that I became a mother for the first time. Like so many new moms, I knew so little. When a friend discovered a New Mothers Group that met in the basement of someone’s home in West Roxbury, I didn’t hesitate to sign up. I was tired, scared and overwhelmed. Any support was better than no support, and I was glad to meet anyone who could teach me a thing or two.

Nancy Holtzman wasn’t just anyone though. She was a lifeline. Her Great Beginnings group was life changing. I learned how to swaddle, I learned how to wear my baby in a sling, I learned how to massage my baby, and I learned that I was doing just fine. All the confidence I had in myself as a mother those first few months came from Nancy. It was no small thing.

By the time I had my second daughter, we were already in the process of opening Magic Beans, and Nancy had teamed up with some other folks to open Isis Maternity in Brookline Village. Life was crazy – we had a toddler, a newborn and a new business. But still, I signed up for Nancy’s Great Beginnings class at Isis. I wasn’t a newbie anymore, but Nancy still had plenty to teach me, and I was so glad I had made it a priority to carve out that time once a week to forget everything else and focus on myself and my new baby. Once our store opened, I made sure every employee knew about Isis and kept their number behind the register for referrals.

Over the years, the relationship between our two businesses cooled somewhat as Isis evolved their business model, became Isis Parenting, and began to compete with Magic Beans more and more directly. We hoped at several points we might find a way to work more closely together, but Isis had different ideas, and we respected that. There was no denying the important role Isis was playing for moms in the Boston area with their phenomenal assortment of classes and resources. We continued to refer people to them, even as we worried about how their tactics were impacting our business.

Last night, Isis Parenting announced they are closing, and maybe I should’ve felt relieved — a competitor is gone — but I didn’t. Like everyone else, I felt sad. So many people have asked the same question: What happened? Obviously I don’t know. But I can guess, based on what we’re dealing with at Magic Beans. There have been so many times over the last couple of years that we’ve thought about throwing in the towel. This is not an easy business. I have a lot of empathy for Isis right now.

I don’t want to speculate about why Isis closed, but I will say this: every time you choose to take your business to a mega-website or a big box store instead of a local retailer, you are pushing that retailer one step closer to extinction. It’s that simple.

We’ve had a lot of questions this morning about whether Magic Beans can fill any of the void that Isis is leaving behind. They are leaving some huge shoes to fill, and it wouldn’t be prudent for us to change our business model overnight. But we can see the impact of this loss in our community, and we recognize that we may be in a position to help. Our doors are certainly open to anyone who has ideas to share. Just email me and Eli at owners@mbeans.com.

It would be easier to pretend this could never happen to us, but that’s unrealistic. We need to face the reality, look at our own business and ask how we can change and improve going forward. There are undoubtedly lessons to be learned here, but for now I just want to salute Isis Parenting and especially Nancy Holtzman for all you’ve accomplished. Thank you for all you’ve done for my family and for thousands of other families. You will truly be missed.

6 comments

  1. This made me sob, as if I haven’t been tearful most of the day…
    Here’s one memory to share back – during that very same Great Beginnings group that Sheri mentioned above, the one in my home “Studio” – please Sheri – we never say “basement”, it had windows! ;), something happened. My father at the time was seriously ill. I think during one of Sheri’s group meetings I got an urgent phone call from and needed to rush to the hospital, leaving the group to finish on their own and lock up. Later that week my dad died and I needed to notify the groups we would need to skip a week. The next day, Sheri came to my home with bags and bags of homemade meals for my family and packaged and labeled and easy.
    Another memory which she probably forgot but I didn’t. About 3 years ago, I bumped into Sheri (literally bumped into her) at Especially For Pets. We were both with our new dogs. (Sheri- so many similarities between the baby class and products business, and the dog class and products business, isn’t there?) And, during our conversation, I accidentally (gently) kicked her dog. I still remember that, because I really really like dogs and felt badly about it.

    Thank you Sheri for this beautiful post and testimonial. So many things rise far beyond working with competing businesses. Like, friendship and support. And, I’m really sorry that I kicked your dog.

    Nancy
    —> on twitter @nancyholtzman

  2. You guys have both been so influential to me starting my business. I took my birth class at Isis, bought my first Bravado bra and along there. Nancy, the Boston community and mothers groups at large will never be the same.

  3. What a classy post – thank you. Best wishes to you and your staff, and to the staff from Isis.

  4. It is always sad when a local business closes shop, even when it is for good reasons such as to pursue new opportunities. I think that is because local stores do more than just sell products. They invest in the lives of their customers and in the health of their communities.

    Nancy, you sound like a wonderful person. I wish you much success in your new ventures in life.

    Sheri, thanks for a wonderfully written post about how we all are connected to each other and the more we do to help each other out, the better off we all will be.

  5. Room to Grow Boston is living proof of Phil’s comment. For many years, our friends at Isis and Magic Beans have indeed supplied so much more than developmental toys, baby equipment and parenting assistance. In supporting Room to Grow’s mission of serving families raising babies in poverty, businesses such as these have generously contributed to improving our city as a whole by making these same resources available to low-income parents. The staff and customers of Isis are in our hearts, and we thank and applaud Isis, Magic Beans, and all of Room to Grow’s retail partners for collaborating with local nonprofit organizations to truly strengthen our community.

  6. I’m headed over to Magic Bean in about 10 minutes and in doing my pre-meeting research, I ran into this post. I’m so glad I did. I’m a person who looks for purpose and soul in businesses and leaders. These two women are inspiring and wise business leaders.

    The loss of Isis in this community is a tragedy. Two out of every three new jobs are created by small, independent businesses in this country. Shops like Magic Bean and Isis create the rich communities and connections that are important in life. They deserve our support and our business.

    Joanne Domenconi
    Co-founder, The Grommet

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