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Friday March 22, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Maybe if the national economy had been just a little better, Elissa and Shram Bhanti would not have had to make the very difficult decision to close their store, Adivasi, which has been in Brattleboro for almost 20 years.

Or possibly if the steady creep of industrialization and globalization in Shram's homeland of India would have been kinder to artisans and crafts people, the Bhantis would have been able to continue selling their fabrics, households goods and jewelry.

And then there was the job of rebuilding after Tropical Storm Irene, which flooded their Flat Street store, destroying thousands of dollars worth of fragile hand-made objects which the couple had been collecting for years.

Maybe, if the Bhantis had only one or two of these challenges to overcome the store would be advertising a spring promotion, instead of a liquidation sale.

But after a couple of very tough years, and a recent health scare for Elissa, the Bhantis have decided to close the store.

Shram says it is time to move on to something new, though he admits that neither he nor Elissa know yet what that will be.

"We had a great thing going for 20 years, but all of these changes have made it impossible for us to do business like we used to," Shram said. "It was like a mandala. It was perfect for a while. Everything worked together perfectly."

There are deep discounts throughout the shop and Shram says the final day will be sometime during the first week in May.

They will not continue their online sales either.

When Adivasi first opened in 1994 the Bhantis were able to work directly with craftspeople and artisans around Udaipur, the city in the Indian state of Rajasthan, where they purchased their goods.

Over time, the older artists retired and the younger residents became more interested in the higher paying jobs brought in by multinational corporations, Shram says.

Some of these companies as well, he said, have introduced mechanized production and the high quality that was a trademark of Adivasi goods has diminished over time.

Through the years the Bhantis were able to invest in inventory and they collected a museum's worth of fabrics, rugs, instruments and jewelry. That inventory was dry, and ready for sale on August 27, 2011, before Tropical Storm settled over Vermont and dropped its historic rains on the state.

Shram said the community support during and after the flood was overwhelming, and for a while the couple did what they could to stay open.

The sluggish economy hasn't helped. And increases in travel costs and in import tariffs and taxes have also made it harder to keep the doors open.

Last month Elissa had emergency surgery, and one of her kidneys was removed.

The Bhantis re-evaluated their lives and decided they would no longer to be able to keep the store open.

On Thursday, as word spread about the closing, customers streamed in to offer support and make those purchases which they had been putting off.

Shram says it was hard to make the decision to close, but at the same time it was time to start something new.

The couple's two children have grown up around the store, and are now in high school and are getting ready to move on to their next stage.

"The medical emergency has forced us to ask what we really want to do, and who we want to be," he said. "You can't take life for granted. Things change, and change is inevitable."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at, or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.

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