With the closing of the WHARF Providence store, we sit down with owner, Rob Babigian, to discuss the reasons behind the decision and what is next for the brand.
W: Let’s get right down to it… You closed the Providence store?
W: What made you decide to close the physical location?
R: It is not a simple, one-reason answer. I just felt for now it is time to not focus on the physical store. The brand and website will live on, but for me, it needs to evolve. As wonderful a place as the Providence store was, it is extremely limiting, both personally and professionally.
W: Was the physical location not successful?
R: It was successful in many ways- whether we are talking sell-through of certain brands and products we stocked, creating awareness of the WHARF brand, or fostering a greater appreciation for shopping locally. I am proud of the positive outcomes.
W: So, if it was, by definition, “successful,” why close?
R: What the general public fails to realize is that small business ownership- at least in my opinion- is organic and very VERY personal. It is more a relationship you need to foster rather than just a cold, hard day job you leave at night and just go home. And that means it is complicated, and so is the answer as to why I am closing. This thing called, WHARF? It is not just a storefront in Providence, or a website, or a brand of products. It is each of those things and more. I created it from scratch. I spent every moment with it, living it, revising and massaging it. It is a piece of my personal experiences and my everyday life as much as it is a physical space. And that physical space was beginning to prevent me from reacting to the natural changes in my relationship to the business and also preventing me from growing in ways I feel I need to grow as a person.
W: So, you are saying the business became a burden?
R: No, not exactly. Business ownership, almost by definition, requires certain unquestioned responsibilities and duties. But there came a point where I, as a man, objected to the effect some of these supposed obligations had on my life. I started the business partly as a reaction to my need to grow personally. Now, in some ways it prevents my growth and so I am pivoting to regain my ability to better myself.
W: The figurative, “cart leading the horse”.
R: Yes. Exactly. When I started the business 4 years ago, there was a definitive path I wanted it to assume. But the funny thing is, the path I laid out as a small business owner did not incorporate my own path and goals as much as it should have. Some people can delineate the two. Create a business model, drive it to success, and keep it churning while one’s private life remains independent. I learned, that is not me. WHARF actually provided that to me- the self-actualization that I truly enjoy incubating ideas, creating products, and carrying them to fruition as much as I enjoy running a business and marketing it to consumers. I realized a balance between being analytical and being creative that I had not had before. Being able to pivot and change directions and not feel badly about it is huge for me now.
W: So what changed?
R: I did. Pure and simple. The store and brand are truly the physical embodiment of a guy who has been finding his way. Followers may not have understood that, but behind the scenes I have worked my ass off to be, simply, better. A better businessman, a better dad, a better human being. And like all people, we evolve and adjust to try and improve on this incomplete version of ourselves. Shedding the physical store for now is me trying to be better all around.
W: For now? So, the store may live again?
R: People fail to recognize- or maybe ignore- the need to change things in their lives. We get so acclimated to routine and norms and turn our backs on change. Fear it even. I opened the store when I accepted change into my life that was calling. I am closing the store because I recognize that need again. Will change come again and a new WHARF store is created from it? Who knows.
W: You said the WHARF brand will live on. How?
R: I feel the brand itself has most embodied what I set out to do from Day 1. It has garnered a certain appreciation for being well-made, utilitarian pieces, that everyone can appreciate and enjoy. The fact that WHARF products are also made exclusively right here in the USA and hatched by a guy from New England who simply appreciates great design and production is a part of the story I feel I have downplayed in a way. But the longer I have been at this, I realize how important that side is for me and for people to understand if they are going to make a commitment to the brand. And that is a part of the story on which I can build and continue to create great products in which people can invest.
W: So what happens in the meantime?
R: I keep working. Keep trying to be a better version of myself. And if I am lucky, part of what I do makes a difference to others and the positive impact will show up in my brand, my products and other ventures. As integral as the store was to the process, I have found so many other things than just a simple store on a corner in Providence that inspire me (and hopefully others), so there is no point to being chained to it. It will allow WHARF to better share its mission of creating quality products and the stories of people who inspire us.
W: Any last words?
R: Well, firstly, it’s not the end. I have learned so much from store ownership, it is undoubtedly going to help future endeavors. This ended up being the first step to some new and exciting things. Some things I am working on will become public, like the store did, and I hope will benefit the masses. But regardless, I appreciate every single thing from the last 4 years. Every single moment has been a learning experience upon which to build, and I thank all my friends, family, customers, vendors, and supporters for honoring me with a chance to share something important to me with them.
You can still shop WHARF at the current website for great deals on remaining inventory. Rob & Co. plan to launch soon with a new look and feel. Stay tuned!