For the first few weeks after Small Dog Electronics came to Rutland in May 2013, lines of people waiting for the store to open in the morning frequently formed on West Street.
The enthusiasm didn’t last.
“In the beginning, we were very encouraged,” owner Don Mayer said. “Over the course of the last three years or so, it’s been somewhat declining.”
That decline hit the point where the chain of Apple stores — with locations in South Burlington, Waitsfield and Key West, Florida — shuttered its Rutland location this week, Mayer said Wednesday.
“Just the level of sales we expected out of that location never materialized,” he said. “We extended and extended and couldn’t justify continued investment in that location.”
Mayer said Apple stores like Small Dog operate on a margin of less than 10 percent.
“Once we take a credit card, that’s pretty slim,” he said. “We need a certain level of sales.”
Mayer said the issue could be demographics, changes in buying habits or a long stretch without new products from Apple.
“Mostly, I just don’t think the area was large enough to support an Apple store,” he said, adding that a number of Rutland customers were still shopping at the store’s South Burlington location.
It was a concern Mayer had from the beginning. When the store opened, he said it was an experiment to see how large a community was needed to support such a business.
Despite all that, Mayer said he was open to giving the city another try at some point in the future.
“Rutland was very welcoming,” he said. “In contrast to other areas, it’s been phenomenal. ... We have no hard feelings.”
Small Dog’s presence in Rutland was pointed to as a symbol of the revival of Rutland in general and downtown in particular. Despite several other downtown businesses closing or pulling out in recent months, Green Mountain Power’s Steve Costello, who helped recruit Small Dog, said the departure should not be taken as a symbol of decline.
“Opening a business is very hard — not just in Rutland, but anywhere in the world,” he said. “People can’t lose sight of that.”
Costello said news would be coming soon of numerous new businesses in Rutland — including one in Small Dog’s storefront.
“We may be in a little bit of a downward dip compared to where we were six months ago, but I am confident we will be back where we were very quickly,” he said. “There are other examples of businesses that are doing tremendously well downtown and there are other businesses that have plans that will be very successful downtown.”