Bad Godesberg · Following speculation online about the closure of the long-established Gutenberg stationary shop, owner Barbara Witt confirmed that it will shut down on March 31, 2021. She spoke with the GA about the reasons for the closure.
Like many of her customers, Gutenberg owner Barbara Witt appears bewildered on Friday. Because the owner had wanted to decide for herself when the public would hear about the closure of her stationary supply store. But unexpectedly, the news took on a life of its own - first via the newsletter of another retailer, then via Facebook.
"I only found out about it on Friday morning through a friend and thought: 'Now you have to go on the offense right away.” Although the decision to close down the shop has been made, the end won't come immediately. It is one of the last remaining long-established businesses in Bad Godesberg. “I gave my employees notice for March 31, 2021," emphasizes the 59-year-old. In her opinion, it would have been early enough to announce the closing in the new year. "If even more customers were to stay away now, it would be terrible," says Witt dejectedly. As well, there is no clearance sale planned as she will continue to replenish stock, placing new orders through the end of January.
Fewer customers since the coronavirus pandemic
Gutenberg is a business with a long history, and the store is even known outside the city limits - so how did it get to this point? The owner answers with six letters: “Corona." Until February her revenue was very stable, but after that it went downhill. "The lockdown and also the developments since then have cracked open a huge gap, which can no longer be closed," says the businesswoman, who practically grew up in the store on Alte Bahnhofstrasse and now runs it in the fifth generation.
When the store had to remain completely shut down (due to lockdown), she put her twelve employees on “Kurzarbeit” (short-time work) for five weeks. A partial opening to sell merchandise at the front door of the store was out of the question for her. "On the one hand, I didn't want to get into a gray area, and on the other hand it's also difficult in terms of the range of products," she says. People want to choose a birthday card on their own or try out a fountain pen.
Customers are now increasingly "in Amazonia", as she calls it, and have noticed how easy online shopping is. But even taking that into account, customer frequency continued to decline sharply. If it had only been one product range that was no longer in demand, she says, she would have been able to act, but not under these circumstances.
Tears flowed among the employees
Keeping everyone safe was important to her from the very beginning, and even now she invests in a safe environment: "We recently started using Hepa filters to clean the air.” She ordered them knowing the closure was a done deal. The 59-year-old made the decision in August and said she immediately informed her employees. She gave them a notice of termination for the end of March, many of them had been with the company so long that they would appreciate seven months’ advance notice. "Tears flowed," she says pensively.
She has been in business for 35 years and the end is anything but easy for her. "But I wanted to make it dignified, for employees, customers and suppliers," says Witt. In other words, she wanted to be able to fully function to the end. She didn't want to change her philosophy: "That's why I didn't think about simply reducing staff, because then it wouldn't have been Gutenberg anymore.” Good and comprehensive service is what they are known for.
In the beginning she worked in the store with her father Bruno Schneider
It all began in 1887 with a print shop founded by Jean Schneider, an ancestor of hers. It was not until many years later, during the Second World War, that pens and paper were sold in the front area of the print store. In 1986, the family decided to sell the print shop. Witt and her father Bruno Schneider used the space that became available to enlarge the store. "The range of products has grown over the decades," she says, with the addition of writing supplies, toys, stationery, and office and school supplies.
They have a huge choice of fountain pens and fillers, "but specialization costs money," says the owner. Financial reserves have carried the company through the crisis so far, she says, with employees receiving special payments such as vacation and Christmas bonuses. Barbara Witt doesn’t know what the future holds. For her - at the age of 60: "I'm going to finish this up for now and then look to the future.”
What special memories do you associate with Gutenberg, be it the print shop or the store? Send us an e-mail to email@example.com, with a photo of the purchased knapsack or wedding invitation, printed by Gutenberg at the time.
(Orig. text: Silke Elbern, Translation: Carol Kloeppel)