Driving through downtown, it's hard to miss the bright signs: "Store Closing," "Huge Sale." After 86 years, the local sporting goods store is going out of business and all items must go.
It's a scene repeated all across America as we enter the second year of this recession.
For most, it's a depressing sight. But for Nathan W. McKie Sr., it means another job. He's the guy retailers call when they need to liquidate their goods.
McKie travels the country, spending two, three months at a time in some town far away from home helping a store shut its doors.
He offers advice on prices, runs ads to bring in customers and runs a prize system to reward frequent shoppers.
Business has never been better for him.
Retailers had one of their worst holiday shopping seasons on record and analysts expect many foundering stores now to file for bankruptcy. In 2008, 148,000 stores shut down, the largest number since 2001, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. Another 73,000 locations may shut their doors in the first half of 2009.
"Our business seems to be good, which is, in many cases, unfortunate for retailers," said Gary Wright, president of G.A. Wright Sales, which employees McKie as a consultant.
Wright's company typically runs 400 to 500 promotional and liquidation sales in a year. He said he now sees more demand for store closings.
"Business was up 20 percent in 2008, and I would imagine it will be up at least that much in 2009," Wright said.
Store owners and managers know how to sell their goods, he said, but a closing is "a very unique activity.
"It's very intense, it's very problematic," he said. "You have one chance to do it right."
Take the case of The Leader Store, the sporting goods store in suburban New Jersey that McKie is currently liquidating. Two brothers own the business and are closing the store as part of a larger retail and residential renovation to the building, which they also own.
The first step was to send a mass mailing to everybody in the area.
"You are the first to know," sad the letter announcing the closing. "We are extending a special invitation to our local customers and wonderful friends like you to come to our store … one week before we publicly announce this sale in the newspaper."
The letter -- provided by McKie but signed by the owners -- then goes on to say that only those who received the letter are invited.
"However, feel free to bring a friend or relative who did not receive an invitation as your guest," it said. "You will have the first opportunity to shop and save on our entire inventory before many items are sold out."
And come they did. On the sale's second day last week, dozens of customers passed through the doors, the majority holding on to the letter.
McKie said he usually gets a 6 to 10 percent return from the initial mailing.
"My husband worked here when he was in high school," said Robin Kabokow, an area resident who was shopping at The Leader Store last week. "It's very sad to me. It's like an institution. It's the goodbye of mom and pops."