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astronomy stores going out of buisness?

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#1 kbastro

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 09:23 PM

does anyone know how many well known astronomy stores have gone out of buisness in the past 15 years??

#2 Raginar

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 09:31 PM

Probably quite a few. The rise of the Internet really messed with people's business plans. Those who failed to adapt seemed to fail or were reduced to other plans. The problem with buying locally is really a taxation issue. When I can get something cheaper with shipping (and no taxes) I really have no motivation to buy locally. That coupled with MSRP requirements from companies really make it difficult for the local guys to compete. For instance, we have a hobby shop that sells a limited selection of Meade and Celestron gear. But, it's never quite the stuff I need. And, their large telescopes just don't move. I think the LX90 they've had as a floor model has been in there for years...

Only large warehouse type places such as Astronomics, OPT, or Anacortes are able to really make a difference and I imagine if we looked at their books we'd find that online sales account for a large proportion of their profits.

#3 wolfman_4_ever

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 09:45 PM

Main reason i won't buy from OPT. Outrageous California taxes and the shipping cost. Free shipping from out of state vendors is hard to beat. (Those that say they won't fib about the cost of an item when shipping over seas better be buying in state)

#4 Bill Weir

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 09:55 PM

Profit margins in the astronomy buisiness are small. Many are also smaller in floor space than their internet presence might suggest. I've been in many in Canada and they all had smaller floor space than I had expected. What once was actually a large one in Toronto has recently close. Also don't believe Anacortes is all that large. A year ago I stopped in there and was surprised to see how little floor and wall space was dedicated to Astronomy and Bird. The attached photo says what they are really all about. There were probably a dozen guys working there and only one of them had rudimentary knowledge of what I was asking about. The rest all seemed more than well aquainted with their other product line.

Bill

Attached Files



#5 stratocaster

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 10:02 PM

There was a Pocono Mountain Optics that opened up here in Las Vegas, NV sometime in the mid to late 1990s. I had read on-line that they had a lot of positive reviews from buyers in their original location out east. I was excited to have them locally. It was a very small shop, but that's where I purchased my first "serious" equipment. But then the owner retired, I think, and they just closed up some time in the early 2000s.

That only left Scope City, which has recently closed its doors.

#6 herrointment

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 10:44 PM

A picture is worth a thousand words.

#7 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 04:26 AM

There was a Pocono Mountain Optics that opened up here in Las Vegas, NV sometime in the mid to late 1990s. I had read on-line that they had a lot of positive reviews from buyers in their original location out east. I was excited to have them locally. It was a very small shop, but that's where I purchased my first "serious" equipment. But then the owner retired, I think, and they just closed up some time in the early 2000s.

That only left Scope City, which has recently closed its doors.


Pocono Mountain Optics was an large east coast based store that went under due to the owner's personal problems, if I am not mistaken, it was a gambling debt. Maybe that small Las Vegas branch had something to do with it. I believe the employees resurrected the store as High Point Scientific.

Scope City is the most recent name vendor to go under. I was no surprise to me, I could never figure how they stayed in business. For years, the San Diego store had a large inventory of Parks Equatorially mounted Newtonians but no Dobsonians. About 14 years ago my wife and I moved to within a 1/2 mile of the store but a couple of answers like "we don't believe in Laser Collimators" was all it took. OPT is about 25 miles up the road, they got my business. If I needed something, Scope City never even entered my consciousness.

- Apogee Inc. I don't know what happened to them but I used to love their ads and their affordable products, some of which were very poorly made, some quite good.

- WholeSale Optics: This was an east coast based online store that advertised great prices. It was no surprise when they went under. I once tried to buy something from them. Called them up, arranged for the order, 3 Celestron Plossls, and then was told I would have to send a check, the order was too small (well over $100) to use a Visa... So instead I called Woodland Hills Camera and Telescope and received the excellent service that Farah is know for.

There are others, look through an old sky and telescope and there are lots of companies that are no longer around but I suspect that is always the case, it is difficult to run a successful business. I am sure that internet savvy and market sense are important but just good business is also important.

As far as OPT being a large store. It's a beautiful store and for a telescope store it's big, but compared to your local supermarket, it's small.

Jon

#8 Joe Bergeron

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 04:43 AM

The original Pocono Mountain store in PA was a nice place, located a couple of hours from where I live, and I visited it several times. The owner was an amiable guy and great to deal with. I hated to witness his downfall.

At one time in Sedona there was a small store than carried two product lines: telescopes and vacuum cleaners. I don't know if it's still there, but I'd like to think so.

#9 Paul G

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 07:46 AM

A picture is worth a thousand words.


Indeed. One never knows when buying over the internet. Here are pictures of some online camera storefronts:

Brooklyn camera storefronts

Amateur astronomers have always had the reputation among dealers of being very "frugal." Some say it goes back to the ATM days. But in the internet age when people can easily price shop and will buy elsewhere to save $5 it's impossible to support a storefront. Retail space is expensive and it's hard to compete with a box cross shipper who doesn't have the overhead of the retail space, inventory, or staff. Despite the woofing and tweeting we see here in threads complaining about the lack of tech support or spare parts available from the online stores the fact is that most aren't willing to pay the extra it costs to buy from their local store. And it goes out of business. Add to that the big scope companies publishing MRSP's that leave the retailer sometimes low single digit profit and it gets pretty dismal. Add a crippling economy that isn't getting better to the mix and it's surprising that they have hung in there as long as they have.

Astro stores don't always just fade away gently. A large one in California a few years ago rolled over holding over $30,000 in deposits for Losmandy equipment alone. They were still taking deposits the week before they folded, customers lost their money.

Amateur astronomy is a very small niche market in the first place, absolutely dwarfed by birding. Birding optics and guns are far more profitable and help keep places like Anacortes open. Astronomics has birding business. Hands on Optics is a packing/shipping store that sells scopes. Company 7's custom optics for NASA and others keeps their amateur astro store open.

#10 FirstSight

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 08:36 AM

In Raleigh, we are fortunate to have a camera store catering to photography professionals and serious amateurs that maintains a decent astronomy section (for example, they're a Televue dealer with plenty of in-stock eyepieces) [Southeastern Camera on Atlantic Avenue]. They keep some very useful items on-hand such as Telrads or Dew Controller units, and are dealers for enough other things that they can order much of what else you might need. They clearly depend on the photography trade for maintaining a profitable business, and only carry the astronomy equipment as a break-even sideline because the principal owner of the business likes indulging in it and the people who come into his store because of the astro equipment.

IMHO there simply isn't enough market for more than a handful of full-time brick-and-morter astronomy equipment businesses to keep going, except in online form, e.g. our sponsor Astronomics. Most of them are like Southeastern Camera or Anacortes, who do astronomy as a sideline because the proprietor likes having it as part of the business, not because it makes them rich doing so.

#11 csrlice12

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 08:39 AM

Yep, Here in Denver, while we have a few high-end astronomy equipment mfgs (JMI, Collins I3), we have only one actual telescope store (S&S Optica). It by no means is a large business. The building looks like an old convenience store, it's not large, maybe a coouple thousand square feet. Theres a dozen or so new scopes on display and quite a few used items (nice though). She's got a little used Meade 2045 Schmidt Cass that's calling my name (trying to resist, wife would well, you know). They've been there for about 40 years now. Don't know how much longer as the owners appear in their 60s (reallly nice folks, and as knowledgeable as can be). They also host the local DAS for meetings occasionally and have monthly "star parties". I've bought both my scopes there. All I can say is TGFBMS (Thank God for Brick & Morter Stores), unlike some who've had to go thru the nightmare of putting together equipment with those IKEA instructions, when professionals do the work, your scope is delivered put together and properly collimated (gotta keep the dob that way though, doubtful I'll have to collimate the refractor ever again). I've went in there and asked many a question--they know me by name now--(is there a message there?) There is one drawback to having a brick and morter store---you tend to go there---and they have all these homeless eyepieces and scopes just sitting there in the room and in the display cases, just waiting for someone to come in and adopt them.

#12 MikeBOKC

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 08:46 AM

You guys all need to become Okies . . . 35 minutes down the road to Astronomics for me.

#13 okieav8r

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 08:55 AM

At one time in Sedona there was a small store than carried two product lines: telescopes and vacuum cleaners. I don't know if it's still there, but I'd like to think so.


There is a store in the town where I live here in Oklahoma, Steve's Pro Shop, that also carries two product lines. One side of the store is an Orion telescope shop, the other side is a bowling pro shop. The owner and I observe together occasionally. I bet MikeBOKC knows the place.

#14 Thomas Karpf

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 09:19 AM

Internet savvy and the (temporary) ability to not charge sales tax for internet sales are certainly major contributors. Although I find Amazon convenient for stuff I don't need NOW, they're putting most brick-and-mortar bookstores out of business. I really think there needs to be a way for ALL internet sales to be sales-taxed to give brick-and-mortar a fighting chance. Perhaps something as simple as a 5% tax on everything, distributed to the states.

Never mind the expense of having a store-front and needing to man it.

Frankly, with the typical buyers' mindset of 'lowest price', it astonishes me that ANY astronomy web business (like Astronomics) can afford to have anyone even vaguely knowledgable answer questions over the phone or email.

#15 EFT

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 10:12 AM

A picture is worth a thousand words.


You got that right. ;) It's obvious where the bigger profit is.

I was surprised the first time I went into OPT and saw how small the showroom was. The internet has actually allowed some of the these companies to grow substantially while only having to pay for more warehouse space rather than showroom space and the accompanying overhead. There use to be 3 brick and mortor dealers here in the Phoenix area. The only one that survives today is a semi-retired gentleman that owns his very old building and is only open 4 afternoons a week and this is in a part of the country generally considered very good for astronomy.

In this economy particularly, having a showroom and the associated overhead and employee costs is pretty much a non-starter. For those with big wallets to start with, it is easier and more economical to concentrate on the internet and work out of a warehouse. For those of us who are smaller, it is easier to concentrate on providing custom solutions to fit exact needs and rely on drop shipping many things rather than stocking.

It is disappointing to not be able to put hands on to equipment that often benefits from being able to see and touch it before buying, but those days are mostly gone and will not likely return. Many small shops are gone and even some large ones and by all indications we could even loose one of the big manufacturers. Times are still tough out there. I just happy that this hobby perseveres as well as it does.

#16 Footbag

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 10:31 AM

I really think there needs to be a way for ALL internet sales to be sales-taxed to give brick-and-mortar a fighting chance. Perhaps something as simple as a 5% tax on everything, distributed to the states.


I completely agree. We need a national tax on Internet sales. No matter what their specialty is, specialty retailers are going out all over the place. They need a level playing field.

Internet vendors still take advantage of national and state infrastructure, yet they only pay sales tax to a single state on a small portion of their sales.

#17 csrlice12

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 10:42 AM

I say we don't need a sales tax...period. We're already taxed for earning it and saving it...and now for spending it......beginning to think that money was created by an insane fingerless tribe counter (the one who counted everybody after the latest hungry animal attack on his fingers). Would be nice to have their dark skies though, eh?

#18 Tom Polakis

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 10:46 AM

The Astronomy Shoppe was a large scope store in Phoenix that closed around 2000. The owner also did car window screens, and that business was his real moneymaker. He couldn't take the stress of running a telescope shop that had such small margins, and put all of his energy into the screen store.

That leaves Phoenix - a city of 4 million in a location with great astronomy climate - with only one very small telescope store. Most of us make the 1 1/2 hour drive to Tucson to Starizona or Stellar Vision if we want to buy astronomy equipment from a place with a showroom.

Tom

#19 csa/montana

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 10:56 AM

Astronomics has birding business.


I would say Astronomics main business is astronomy, with their new showroom!

Link

#20 George Methvin

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 11:07 AM

It's a hard buisness to be in. Not like selling cars or TV that people buy every year or so. I have been in this hobbie for over 40 years and have only bought 4 brand new telescope in that time plus a dozen or so eyepeice from vendors. These stores depends of those folks that have, or need to have the latest new astro toys that come out. Or new people just getting in to this hobbie. I know many folk here on these fourms that go through several telescopes and new mounts every year or so. These are the folks that help keep the Astronomy store going. If these Astronomy store depended on folks like me to keep them going they would be in bad shape. :lol: I am one of those folks that when I buy a car I keep it for at lest seven years or more but many folks buy a new car every year, those are the folks Auto dealers love.

#21 csrlice12

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 11:12 AM

I'm happy with the scopes I have now, but eyepieces---let's just say my B&M store will be around for awhile...

#22 MikeBOKC

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 11:57 AM

Yes know Steve well. Likely will be getting a large Orion Dob from him soon!

#23 groz

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 12:31 PM

The attached photo says what they are really all about.


We stopped in there a couple years back to pick something up on the way to Table Mountain Star Party. Like you, I was quite surprised to see the sign on the side of the building.

Another thing that does make a big difference, quality telescopes dont 'wear out' over time if one looks after the gear. So, over time, the used market ends up with an abundance of quality optical gear, which for the most part, is just as good as brand new. We all spend our discretionary income on this stuff, so, there are no tax incentives for buying new kit, and many lack of tax incentives for buying the used stuff.

When my wife and I started out, we bought our initial kit from our local retailer, all of it. Two telescopes, two mounts, and a lot of bits and pieces, to end up with low end astrophotography kits, with dslr cameras (we already had the cameras). As we started upgrading, we switched to buying used stuff, whenever we stumbled on a 'good price'.

About a year ago, we started contemplating a major upgrade, to what amounts to our 'dream retirement telescopes'. We had a fairly good idea what we considered our 'dream setup', and knew full well, there is no way our budget could withstand that kind of purchasing. But, we waited patiently, and, over time we did find the caliber of equipment we wanted, in a price range that our budget could withstand. None of it was new.

Today we have a set of kit, which I dont envision any upgrades on for the foreseeable future. It's all premium brand stuff. We should get at least 10+ years of enjoyment out of this gear, and at the end of that time, it will still be quality optical equipment, well cared for, and worth probably the same as what we paid for it, possibly more if new kit inflates in price like everything else.

So, for the dealers, what does all this mean ? They got margins and markups on our initial entry level purchases, but, the margins and markups on our high end purchases, were made a few years ago. We wont be buying much / any astro gear for a few years, and we have two complete low end setups, which are now headed off to the used market. it's all good kit, which has been well cared for. The kit my wife and I put together, would never have happened without a flourishing community online, for used astro gear.

And therein lies the crux for the retail end of this hobby. Astro gear for the most part, ends up re-cycled into the used market, and most of it is kept in pretty good shape. If somebody is starting out in the hobby today, particularily if they are somewhat cost sensetive, it's easy to kit out a nice setup, via the used market. The internet has made this much easier over the last few years, there are numerous sites dedicated to used astro gear, and one can find good kit, and good prices there.

And heck, refer back to the place you originally noted, with the big sign demonstrating how much of the business is really about telescopes. They have figured out a way to turn the used telescope market into a profitable sideline. Lots and lots of people are willing to pay the sign up fee for a website, just to get access to the amount of used stuff for sale there. They built a critical mass, and, today harvest a modest revenue stream out of it. So, rather than try compete with the used market, they enable it, harvest a small revenue stream from it, and move on.

As long as we all take good care of our astro gear, then retailers will be competing directly with the used market for this stuff, and, that's a very tough thing to compete against.

#24 Jarad

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 12:36 PM

I say we don't need a sales tax...period. We're already taxed for earning it and saving it...and now for spending it......


Just to note, income tax is federal, and pays for the federal government. Sales tax is local, and pays for your state, city, and/or county government. As far as I know, there is no tax on savings (there is on earned interest, which counts as a form of income).

As to whether or not we need them, that's dipping into political territory that we don't allow on CN. :rules:

Jarad

#25 EFT

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 12:56 PM

And therein lies the crux for the retail end of this hobby. Astro gear for the most part, ends up re-cycled into the used market, and most of it is kept in pretty good shape. If somebody is starting out in the hobby today, particularily if they are somewhat cost sensetive, it's easy to kit out a nice setup, via the used market. The internet has made this much easier over the last few years, there are numerous sites dedicated to used astro gear, and one can find good kit, and good prices there.



You are absolutely correct. I'm in the business and still buy the majority of my gear used and always encourage others to do the same. It just makes sense when it comes to products that are generally quite durable. You can depend on just about any half way decent telescope and mount lasting longer than the average car (and certainly longer than the major appliances in my house). The really good stuff and easily outlive most of us. The retail large astro equipment business has to rely mostly on equipment junkies and newbies to survive.






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