Daniel Robison for NPR
Tourists visit the Made in America store in Elma, N.Y., on their way to scenic landmarks. "Makes me think of when I was young and everything was American. And that's the way it should be," shopper Gloria Giesa says.
Tourists visit the Made in America store in Elma, N.Y., on their way to scenic landmarks. "Makes me think of when I was young and everything was American. And that's the way it should be," shopper Gloria Giesa says. Daniel Robison for NPR
Dozens of tour buses have added the tiny town of Elma, N.Y., as a stop this year. On their way to scenic sites like Niagara Falls, these tourists are squeezing in a visit to the Made in America store.
Shop owner Mark Andol climbs aboard a bus and tells the riders that 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," he says.
Customers pour into the spacious building, which used to be a Ford dealership. American flags and patriotic quotes adorn the walls.
Gloria Giesa of Vaselboro, Maine, says she always looks for "Made in the USA" labels when shopping. But this store saves her the trouble.
"Makes me think of when I was young and everything was American. And that's the way it should be," she says.
But Giesa admits she doesn't always go with American products.
"You buy the best deal you can find. That's what it's all about. [For] some people, every penny counts. And if you can save 50 cents, that's a lot," she says.
Andol sees the store as a way for American vendors to gain traction in a retail environment where they've been priced out by overseas competition.
A Personal Battle
For him, it's a personal battle. 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-person workforce.
Daniel Robison for NPR
Customers are eager to shop the store's 3,000 American-made products.
Customers are eager to shop the store's 3,000 American-made products. Daniel Robison for NPR
"These people want to work. You have no work for them. Yet 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 to keep them," Andol says.
In the beginning, Andol admits, opening the store was more of an idea than a business plan. It stocked just 50 items.
Now, customers are snapping up its medley of more than 3,000 products. You won't find everything. There are no can openers, coffee makers or just about anything electronic. Prices are competitive. Jeans for $30, and $14 will buy a T-shirt that says, "China is a long drive to work."
Store manager Rob Weylan says, "50-cent toilet paper. American-made toilet paper. Fifty cents a roll. We're better than the dollar store."
Weylan makes sure each product is 100 percent American, right down to the glue in the packaging. Vendors have to say where every component of their product is made and sign letters of authenticity.
Checking The Goods
This is necessary, Weylan says, because loopholes in Federal Trade Commission rules allow many items to be labeled "Made the USA" when it's only half-true or better. Weylan says he spends hours verifying manufacturer's 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 to it, because they lied to us," he says.
So far, principle hasn't turned into a profit. Any money the store has made has gone into acquiring new products. Sales have doubled from this time last year, thanks to word of mouth and visits by out-of-towners.
Franchisees are already planning to open more Made in America stores, envisioning it as the next Wal-Mart — without the foreign goods.