By Wayne Grant
ORMOND BEACH - Marge Ramey of Ormond Beach said she can't resist taking a peak when she drives by Mary's Wicker Outlet on South Yonge Street.
"I always turn my head and wonder what they have today," she said.
The locally owned business, with its open front exposing wicker furniture, baskets, bird cages, wreaths, artificial flowers, figurines and a host of other items begging for closer inspection, will soon be empty.
Owner Rick Ives said the store is going out of business after 16 years because of slow sales.
"It could close any day," he said. "A buyer on the Florida west coast may buy the entire inventory."
Mr. Ives traces the beginning of trouble to the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001.
"The economy never recovered from that. Look across the street," he said, nodding toward two buildings. "I've watched those places close and reopen with new businesses three or four times in the past few years."
People just aren't buying.
"They've lost their jobs or they're afraid they'll lose their mortgage. They don't want to spend money," he said.
At one time, 11 people worked at the store. Now it's down to Mr. Ives. Even his wife, Mary, the store's namesake, is no longer an official employee.
"She hasn't collected a paycheck here in two years," he said. "We talked and decided one of us had to go."
Another factor hurting the business is the weak dollar. Ninety percent of the merchandise is purchased overseas and it becomes much more expensive when the dollar loses value.
People are looking for bargains these days, Mr. Ives said. This was proven when he put out his "going out of business" sign.
"I've had more people in the past six weeks than in the last two years," he said.
He said he's getting 75 to 80 customers per day, much like the numbers years ago before the economy went bad.
Mr. and Mrs. Ives opened the business as a craft store with wreaths, garlands and wicker baskets. As people started asking for different things, they expanded their product line.
They started selling wicker furniture and also artificial flowers and had a floral arranger on staff at one time.
"If one person would ask for something, Mary would get it in," Mr. Ives said.
They tried to stay ahead of trends by looking at magazines from the West Coast or New York.
"Trends get to Florida a few years later," he said. "We tried to be a little ahead of the curve."
Mr. Ives isn't sure what he will do next, though he said he is thinking of selling a new line of merchandise in the same location, which he rents.
Mr. Ives, 51, said he's too young to retire.
"Some people think we made a million just because we own a store," he said. "We had a small profit margin because we just wanted to make a living. I think that's why we were so successful for so long."
Ms. Ramey said she hates to see the store close because she didn't have to go to national retail stores for craft or wicker items and could find the best price at Mary's.
"My friend in Palm Coast is going to be sad, too. She always stopped here," Ms. Ramey said. "And my grandchild's teachers would come here to get decorations for the different holidays."
She also said she had friends from Fort Myers and Naples who always went home with a "car load" of stuff.
"You know what prices are like over there," she said.
Shopper Barbara Hawes said the store closing is a shame.
"It has such a variety," she said. "I like to buy a little bit of everything here. All the outdoor stuff and the knickknacks."
Editor's note: At press time on Wednesday, Mary's doors were closed and the phone was disconnected, signaling the store has closed, but Mr. Ives could not be reached for confirmation.