Dozens of tour buses have added tiny Elma, New York, as a stop this year. Folks who are In the area to see sites like Niagara Falls and the Erie Canal, can also squeeze in a little shopping at the Made in America store.
Owner Mark Andol climbs aboard a bus of retirees to tell them shopping here is a patriotic act.
“When you walk through them doors, I guarantee, when you’re shopping the homework’s been done. It’s 100 percent made-in-America products. Made in this country by American workers and the money stays in our economy. So enjoy yourself. Thank you.”
Customers pour into the spacious building, which used to house a car dealership. American flags and patriotic quotes adorn the walls. The store even has a theme song which includes the lyric; "Made in America, the red white and blue.”
Gloria Giesa says she always looks for “Made in the USA” labels when shopping. But she doesn’t have to in this store. “Makes me think of when I was young and everything was American. And that’s the way it should be.”
But the Vaselboro, Maine woman admits she doesn’t always buy American products. “You buy the best deal you can find. That’s what it’s all about. Some people, every penny counts. And if you can save 50 cents, that’s a lot.”
Andol sees his store as a way for American vendors to gain traction in a retail environment where they’ve been priced out by overseas competition. This is personal for him. A few years ago, his welding company nearly went out of business after losing major contracts to foreign manufacturers. He laid off nearly half of his 70 workers.
“These people want to work. You have no work for them," says Andol. "And it’s going overseas and you think, ‘Jeez, these people want to put food on their table. They’re willing to work.’ There just wasn’t enough work for me to keep them.”
At first, Andol admits the store was more of an idea than a business plan. In fact, when it opened 14 months ago, he stocked just 50 items.
Now, customers can browse through a variety of more than 3,000 products. There are some obvious absences. There are no can openers, coffee makers or just about anything electronic. But prices on what is on the shelves are competitive: jeans for $30 dollars; $14 will buy a t-shirt that says, “China is a long drive to work.”
It is manager Rob Weylan’s job to make sure each product is 100 percent American-made, right down to the glue in the packaging. The store requires its vendors to say where every component of their product is made and sign letters of authenticity.
It's necessary, Weylan says, because loopholes in federal rules allow many items to be labeled “Made the USA” even if they include some foreign-made elements. He spends hours verifying manufacturers’ claims.
“If, for some reason, something were to slip through the cracks, we take the product out of the store, burn it or whatever we do with it because they lied to us.”
So far, patriotic principle isn't turning a profit. Any money the store makes goes right back into acquiring new products. But sales have doubled from this time last year, thanks to word of mouth and visits by out-of-town tourists.
As one group files back onto the bus, Andol hands out small flags and flyers advertising the store’s website.
Franchisees are already planning to open more Made in America stores, envisioning it as possibly the next Wal-Mart - only without the foreign-made goods.