BRUNSWICK — For five years, composting toilets, solar drying racks, and CFL light bulbs have been synonymous with the name Fred W. Horch.
But that will soon change.
Last week, Horch announced that he is putting his sustainable products store up for sale. By July, Horch and his family will be in Japan, where his wife, Hadley, an associate professor of biology and neuroscience at Bowdoin College, is going on sabbatical for a year.
Instead of trying to find someone to manage the store while he’s gone, he and his co-owners decided to sell.
“We decided we just didn’t feel comfortable with me being in Japan, and the name F.W. Horch on Maine Street,” he said. “To really do well, the store needs to have the owner here, in the store, every day.”
Horch has been behind the counter since 2004, when his shop was called the Green Store. In 2006, he renamed it after himself, and shifted the product line away from personal health and toward sustainable living.
“The Green Store had a lot more overlap with Morning Glory, and was about taking care of your own body, your own health,” he said. “Everything I sell I want to be able to say, this is how it protects the planet.”
Horch said his store is about saving the Earth – about giving people the tools to reduce their waste, use less energy, and consume fewer natural resources.
“If you want to do something like take vitamins, great, go ahead and do that,” he said. “But that’s not what my store is about.”
After graduating from law school, and then working in non-profits around the country, Horch decided one of the best ways to encourage people to change their personal habits was by opening a green products store.
“People are aware of the big issues. Now we really have to figure out what specific things should people be doing,” he said.
But after seven years in retail, Horch’s priorities have changed. He said he still believes in the ability of a store like his to have a positive impact on the environment, but he’d like to spend more time thinking about how to solve environmental problems on a broader scale.
He ran as a Green Independent Party candidate for the state House of Representatives last fall, losing by 4 percent to Democratic Rep. Alex Cornell du Houx, but finishing ahead of Republican Jonathan Crimmins.
Since then, Horch said he has become even more convinced he wants to be involved in politics, something he can’t do if he keeps the store.
“Running a small business consumes so much of your time,” he said. “There’s just not enough time for me to really think through the big decisions. I have to make sure that the toilets get delivered, and that everybody is taken care of in the store.”
In Japan, Horch hopes to be able to spend more time with his three children and his wife, and also to think about how he’ll make a meaningful contribution to public policy when he returns. He said he is considering making another bid for state office, or being a part of a political campaign.
Before he can head off to Japan, though, he must sell the store. He’s asking $50,000 for everything – all the inventory, the cash register, the basket full of bumper stickers – and he’s willing to finance the right buyer. Since announcing his decision in a store newsletter last week, he said, he has heard from a couple of customers who are interested in buying.
While Horch may not miss the constant pressure of having enough composting toilets and metal water bottles in stock, he said he will miss the ability the retail store afforded him to meet so many different people.
“When I get back I’ll need to find another way to be actively involved in the community,” he said.