Hammett’s Learning World, a store in a strip mall in suburban Washington, recently announced its closure and displayed signs advertising discounts. The store, owned by J.L. Hammett Co., the oldest retailer of school supplies in the country, is one of 52 stores across the US that closed permanently last week. The company, which was founded in 1863, decided to shut down its physical stores due to lower-than-expected revenues. However, it will continue selling merchandise through its website. This closure is indicative of the shrinking and consolidating school supplies market, which has been negatively impacted by the uncertain economy, tight budgets, and reduced spending on supplies by teachers. Tim Holt, the president and CEO of the National School Supply and Equipment Association, states that the economy played a significant role in Hammett’s closure, as the tight margins in the school market make it vulnerable to even minor shifts. The president of J.L Hammett, Richmond Y. Holden Jr., declined to comment on the store closure. Despite its closure, five years ago, Hammett’s future seemed hopeful, with the success of its e-commerce site and partnerships with child-friendly websites. However, the internet did not live up to expectations, as schools were slow to adopt online purchasing and the web partnerships did not yield the expected profits. Hammett’s sale of its wholesale division to School Specialty further solidified the latter’s position as the leading company in the school supply market. School Specialty’s success comes from its diversification and acquisition of companies that serve different educational niches. The closure of Hammett’s stores has left many in mourning, as the company’s closure marks the end of an era.
Hector Emanuel of Education Week reports that School Specialty, led by President and CEO David J. Vander Zanden, has not ventured into the retail business, as selling to consumers is not their intended audience.
In recent years, Hammett’s financial situation has deteriorated. In an effort to sustain ongoing operations, they borrowed $10 million from GMAC Commercial Finance based in Braintree, Massachusetts. Unfortunately, this amount was insufficient. The closure of Hammett’s Learning World has deeply saddened teachers and parents, according to Jutta Stuart, the store manager in Springfield. She expressed that "the teachers are all grieving."
Adrienne Fischer, a third-grade teacher at Kerrydale Elementary School in Prince William County, Virginia, is one of the many educators affected by the store’s closure. She believes that Hammett’s Learning World catered to a specific need that other retailers ignored. She mentioned that office-supply chain store Staples doesn’t provide resources specifically for teachers. Fischer lamented the closure and expressed her nostalgia, stating, "My parents are teachers, so I am familiar with this store. It’s quite unfortunate that it is shutting down."