G’town Variety store owner folds his tent

GERMANTOWN–The signs went up earlier this month at Germantown Variety: “Closing, All Merchandise 50% Off.”

Those outside of the hamlet could find the message on the store’s Facebook page: “Thank you for four wonderful years, but it’s time for Germantown Variety to say goodbye. Store closing sale: All merchandise is 50% off.”

And always the merchant, proprietor Otto Leuschel urged: “Stock up on everyday items or get all of your Christmas shopping done this summer!”

“It’s been our pleasure!” he concluded.

The Facebook comments were uniformly sad, combined with a concern about Otto’s Market, on the other side of Main Street (still open, not closing) and Hansel and Gretel, the two variety store cats (going home with a store staffer).

Almost a year ago, in August 2015, the two stores were listed for sale, at $995,000 each. Today Otto’s Market is still on the market, at $849,000, listed by Patricia A. Hinkein Realty in Germantown.

Germantown Variety remains on the Hinkein site, listed now at $799,000, but Mr. Leuschel said Monday that he is liquidating the stock and fixtures, preparing to offer the store for lease. The building also includes two apartments on the second floor.

Mr. Leuschel does not have a tenant for the store, but said he was hopeful: “All the other commercial properties in Germantown are occupied. Mine will be the only one that isn’t.”

“We’re sad to see it go,” Supervisor Joel Craig said Tuesday. “It was a unique store, a fun experiment and we enjoyed it. But I understand the financial realities that Otto is up against. We wish him well.”

Mr. Leuschel, 54, opened Germantown Variety in 2012. If Mr. Craig calls the store “unique” and a “fun experiment,” it’s because Mr. Leuschel sought to provide the area with an old-fashioned variety store in the 21st century. “I focused on what people needed most, like hardware, housewares, personal care, and office supplies,” Mr. Leuschel says on the store’s website. “My goal is to make it easy to get all the basic things you need on our Main Street.

“I join a widespread movement that yearns for a return to the Main Street of an earlier time in America,” he continues. “To get out of these dreary strip centers full of big box stores with cheap stuff made in China! Come in, step back in time and look at what will (hopefully) be the future!”

This being the 21st century, Germantown Variety’s website offers an online hardware store. This writer bought there the best home dehumidifier she’s ever had, made in Ohio and delivered to the door.

Mr. Leuschel sought to sell only items made in the United States. He acknowledged last year that “dealing in hardware, I have to source some items in China.”

Mr. Leuschel arrived in Columbia County in 2003, a former executive at Whole Foods. He opened Otto’s Market in 2008. Discussing the sale of the stores last year, he said he wanted to move back to Washington, his home state, to spend time with his parents, who were 84.

For the past several months, he’s been doing that. Reached Tuesday he was on an airplane, as he commutes weekly between Germantown and Washington, having gone back to work for Whole Foods.

The building that houses Germantown Variety was originally the Grange Hall, built in 1923. Over the next 90 years it served many purposes, among them dance hall, basketball court, movie theater, factory, drugstore, piano store and cafe.

“We won’t mourn,” said Supervisor Craig. “We’ll look forward to the next phase.”

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