Have you heard the one about the Main Street shop owner? He was discouraged when another store with similar merchandise opened up next door and put up a huge sign out front reading: “Best Deals.” Then another similar store opened up on his other side, putting up an even larger sign reading: “Lowest Prices.” Our intrepid shopkeeper considered his predicament, then put up the biggest sign of all over his own shop. It read: “Main Entrance.”

Such is the ingenuity and resilience of the Main Street retailer; under siege from competitors, the economy, and the Internet, yet somehow always able to pull a rabbit out of a hat. Of course the shopkeepers in our story would receive a stern scolding from the planning department for illegal signage, but I digress.

For 20 years my store Pennaluna, formerly Murray ’n’ Gibbs and more formerly Tantau, has been a St. Helena retailer. We’ve endured economic downturns, demographic shifts, flooding, 9/11, mouse invasions and a serious 2009 shortage of Abba CDs and chicken purses. We’ve seen Martha Stewart, Shabby Chic, and even Christopher Radko defect to Kmart and Target, and our most thoughtfully selected books piled high on discount tables at Costco. Yet we’ve survived, neither the most expensive store in town nor the cheapest, but staking out a niche in that marvelous middle where most people live and shop.

And while we adore those shoppers with black Amex cards, and appreciate those who can only afford a greeting card, middle-income shoppers have always been the bedrock upon which our business was established and grown. They’ve remained loyal in the face of enormous pressures to abandon us for cheaper, more convenient alternatives. Still, change has escalated over the past year, and I’ve felt like George Clooney at the helm of that boat in “The Perfect Storm,” although rather than bailing water over the side, I’ve been scooping gold bullion into the bow while the ship just sinks faster and deeper.

And so our store is closing, like so many before it. We will expand our website, and perhaps even pop up again in some different future form. But the days of opening our doors 362 days a year, rain or shine, busy or slow, will soon be over. The marvelous middle is disappearing; we all see and feel it in our community and in our country, and this has led to a tectonic shift in retail in America. Yet while the luxury and discount markets and Internet outposts may have their day, I am confident that the small-town retailer will rise again, greeting locals and visitors with a warm “Welcome,” taking time to personally gift-wrap a package or to help with a special order, and serving as a public square where neighbors and friends reconnect.

What will I miss? So many wonderful customers who have treated us like family, sharing a laugh, scouting products, and indulging my particular musical tastes (even during the Tom Jones-Tijuana Brass period). They stop by even now to share memories and provide moral support. I’ll miss my fellow merchants who have been so welcoming, the vendors and artists who have become friends and the extraordinary employees and former owners who have given so much of themselves to the shop.

Pat Thorp-Boyd, leaving a job she’s done brilliantly for two decades, continues to be my greatest source of strength as I shutter the business she once owned. Whatever losses I’ve suffered through my retail adventures, I’ve benefited beyond measure from the kindness of former strangers, and have been forever changed by this experience and by this community.

Many of my friends had the same reaction to the news: “Finally, you can use your brain again, concentrate on your writing and restart your law practice.” I know what they mean: charting the intellectual course rather than worrying about color swatches. But I suspect they underestimate the enormous brain power it takes to operate a small retail business. I used to view small business owners with an emphasis on the word “small,” but now appreciate how they struggle, alone and unsubsidized, suffering the impacts of recessions and regulations more quickly and profoundly than their big-corporate brethren, while having a more direct and immediate positive effect on the economy.

I’ve never experienced anything like the exhilarating, exasperating, and exhausting roller-coaster of owning this retail store. Will I use that experience, and my brain, as a writer and lawyer and business person in the future? You bet. But my heart will always be in St. Helena retail.

(Laura Rafaty is the owner of Pennaluna on Main Street, a resident of St. Helena, a former attorney and Broadway theatrical producer and an author and columnist.)