Since 1985, locally-owned shop Invisible World has outfitted Juneauites and tourists alike with fall’s favorite garment: the sweater. From his South Franklin storefront, owner Stuart Cohen has sold cashmere, silk, alpaca and wool duds sourced from all over the world — as far away as Mongolia, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and China.
But in just a few weeks Invisible World will be, well, invisible. The store is closing its brick-and-mortar operation at the end of the cruise ship season. It will instead focus on web-based retail.
“Our overall feeling is of gratitude for the opportunity we’ve had,” Cohen said during a Saturday afternoon interview. “Gratitude for being part of the lives of all the people in Juneau who have bought the sweaters.”
When Cohen started the business, rental rates were much lower on South Franklin. Slowly, competition from international cruise ship businesses has upped the rent and lowered margins for business owners. To compensate, he’s been focusing more on his online operation in the last few years.
Cohen is also a published novelist. Running both the storefront and his growing online business cut into his writing time.
“When the market was really good, I could basically run a seasonal part time business and make enough money to do my writing,” Cohen said. “That’s no longer possible.”
Cohen coordinates with each of his suppliers in person. In all, his shop represents 11 sweater, scarf and hat makers from around the world.
Cohen has put out four novels since his 1997 debut “Invisible World.” The inspiration for the book came when on a business trip in Mongolia.
An inveterate traveler, Cohen conceives of his shop as a place for customers to encounter the far reaches of the globe in Juneau. Because he works directly with his suppliers, meeting the small families and groups he buys from, everything he sells has a bit of the maker in it, a bit of the place.
The book expands on that idea.
“Invisible World the book basically takes that idea and says that, it’s not just sweaters in the store, every single object in this world is a symbol of a much bigger set of associations and memories and fantasies,” he said.
Cohen first went to South America in 1984 and started his store in 1985. In 2002, he moved onto the internet.
Closing the brick and mortar store will allow him to focus on his writing. He plans to resume writing his latest book, which takes place in Juneau, in January.
“The only reason I got into business was to make enough money to go back to South America. I didn’t want to own a store, I didn’t want to be a businessman. It was just like ‘If I do this, I can make enough money to go back,’” Cohen said.
Items in Invisible World will be marked down substantially until it closes. Those wearing a store tee-shirt will also get an additional 10 percent off.