I have a city built on the peak of a 3 km-high mountain that moves from place to place on a daily basis, the whole mountain appearing in a new place each dawn. Typically, the place in which it appears is or has experienced winter conditions, or at least colder conditions than usual.

The city survives by trading with people who live in the places it appears - these places trade goods such as foodstuffs, timber and other raw materials for magical or technological items that are produced on the city, or for services provided in the city. The city's technological level is similar to renaissance Europe, and the magic is similar to that depicted in the Ars Magica RPGs, though with much less restraint of trade as imposed by that RPG's Order of Hermes.

I have people who are interested in setting up at two or three new businesses in this city, and who are looking for businesses that have closed down or are no longer prospering so that they can make an offer for the properties. They are looking in the middle-class to upper-class areas (not coincidentally also the mid to upper levels of the city), so the businesses that they are looking to displace must once have been moderately to highly profitable.

What sorts of businesses could initially prosper but ultimately fail in such an environment, and for what reasons?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Is there a reason why the answer to this should differ from why any other real life business in a city fail? As described, while magic clearly exists, I see nothing that is out of the realm of normal business procedures (ironically, FedEx might actually do more than this city in the way of rapid cross-city trading!) $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Oct 30, 2015 at 1:01
  • $\begingroup$ Are the places where the mountain appears always the same ? Or does the mountain just teleport at random each day, with no way for the people to predict where ? $\endgroup$
    – Kolaru
    Oct 30, 2015 at 10:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Kolaru The mountain moves in a semi-random manner - the location it arrives in is always experiencing winter or at least cold weather. It must always move, so it is never in the same place two days running. It typically arrives within easy travelling distance of a major population centre. It does not generally re-visit a place until it has visited most of the other suitable places first. And finally, the Winter Goddess, whose mountain it is, can predict or direct its movements when her avatar is present, though there has been no avatar for the last 20 years. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Nov 1, 2015 at 22:44
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    $\begingroup$ I'm having a difficult time imagining anyone in the nearby population center climbing to the top of a 3km high mountain to go shopping. That isn't exactly a 1 day journey, especially without any preparation. I won't even get into the idea of hauling timber up there. What happens to people who haven't made it back down and off the mountain when it teleports away? Are they taken with it and ripped from their homes? Do they fall from the sky? $\endgroup$ Nov 2, 2015 at 16:32
  • $\begingroup$ @AnonymousMan, there are inclined railways for passengers and goods. It takes less than an hour to get from the bottom to the top or vice-versa using them. Good point, though. Anyone who doesn't leave by midnight is carried away with the mountain. Visitors are advised to leave well before then. However, being carried away is not so terrible - travel by correspondences is possible (see worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/q/760/75), so anyone with a smidge of magical ability could get home relatively quickly from even the most distant location. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Nov 3, 2015 at 21:35

1 Answer 1


A few things come to mind.

  1. Change of fashion or culture in high society. If you're a powdered wig manufacturer and suddenly people decide wearing powdered wigs to pretend that they're older and more mature than others is silly and stop buying them, you're out of luck. Historically, short-lived fashions have spawned short-lived but prosperous businesses that died as soon as the fashion did (look at any disco studio ever after the mid '70s)

  2. New technology, or magic, has rendered a service unneeded any more. Someone who trained homing pigeons will find themselves out of work when someone invents magical long distance communication. Someone who uses leeches for healing will sure have trouble making a profit once people realize leeches sure don't work like that. Maybe blacksmiths are going out of business once people found a way to magically make hotter fires with less effort which allowed a few good blacksmiths to produce products faster, running the 'somewhat good' blacksmiths unneeded because the really good ones now have time to do all the work.

  3. Owner lost favor with the nobility or ruling class. If the business owner offended the king or queen with some minor slight he may find that royalty either forbids him from working or expresses their displeasure causing all nobles to avoid him and put him out of business. Maybe a business owner lost their nobility, or were proven to not be a noble in the first place, and everyone decided that they didn't want to work with a non-noble!

  4. Death of the owner of the business. At this tech level deaths would be much more common, leaving more businesses without owners. In addition at these times many businesses required a specific craftsman to run them, you must have years of training to be a blacksmith, or cobbler, or glass blower etc, which means even if the owner of the business had family members they may lack the craftsman skills necessary to continue the business after the craftsman passed away. In a closely related note many injuries can make one unable to ply their trade for much the same effect, since many trades were very physical and any number of even minor injuries could make it difficult or impossible to adequately perform your job.

  5. Odd travel locations. You said yourself that the mountain appears randomly, so they don't know where they would end up. Maybe you had a fluke and appeared at a large number of locations that did not need a certain craftsman. If you have someone who sews winter coats and your last 6 months of jumps were all to desert he is going to have a hard time continuing to turn a profit. Maybe weavers were shocked that they appeared above a country known for fast cheap crafting of materials. Business men often have limited amount o savings, particularly at this time where banking wasn't as available to the common trader, so even a few months of 'dry spell' with little business can kill a previously thriving bushiness. Actually this option may suit your needs well, because it could result in a number of businesses all going broke at the same time, meaning many cheap business locations up for grabs at the same time setting up a situation where a business man can quickly start up many locations cheaply.

  6. Odd travel locations 2, electric boogaloo. Imagine the mountain jumped to a rather unique location that sells products that are usually hard to get hold of. Many speculators bought up large quantities of these products on the assumption that they would soon leave for another region where the product doesn't exist and they will be in high demand. However, the mountain either didn't jump for awhile, or soon jumped to another location where the usually-scarce product was sold even cheaper. The speculators who committed large amount of their savings to stock piling this product will find themselves unable to sell it for awhile due to the lack of scarcity, causing them to lose a huge amount of money in opportunity cost and be unable to keep up with regular bills. This is particularly true in the second situation, where the mountain later jumped somewhere where the product was sold even cheaper, since the product would now flood the market and the investors would either have to sell everything at a lost or hold on to the product for an extremely long time before selling, during which they will have little money for other investments.

  7. Lack of raw materials required for a business. Perhaps the equivalent to a drought has killed all of a certain type of crops. A florist finds all the delicate flowers were killed when they appeared in a much colder region then usual, there are now too few flowers, and those that exist are so outrageously expensive, that a simple florist can't compete.

  8. A superstore appeared. Someone proved exceptional at a craft to the point that they drove all others out of business. This would likely mean either your equivalent of wal-mart, a company that works as a giant in mass numbers and economy of scales to out compete smaller companies, or one person with a potential talent. Maybe someone has a unique magical gift that allows him to, say, make glass figurines absurdly fast by shaping them with magic rather then blowing them. The glass blowers will find that this one person can produce as good or higher quality figurines at a fraction of the rate that tedious glass blowing techniques can, putting many of them out of business. To go the second route you need to stress the person out competing others has a unique magical gift, something that isn't easily recreated or else this is more an example of 2 above.

  9. A minority group has become a political scapegoat for some reason and no one wants to ask them for help any more, causing stores run by these minority group to fail due to lack of customers. This may sound extreme, but it's happened quite often in our history. The most obvious being the Jewish in Nazi Germany, but everyone from Christians in biblical times, to Irish in the US industrial revolution to Islam in modern America have gotten the unfair scapegoat status for some social ill and been run out of business because of it in our past, to name just a few off the top of my head. This is far more common then you may imagine.

  10. Recent urbanization. A previously less populated 'country' area has had people expanding out into it, rapidly building houses and urbanizing it. This would change the types of people who live in it, and thus the types of stores needed. Someone who use to sell farming or hunting supplies to mostly country folk may find that with the place rapidly growing more urban, farms shutting down and being replaced with stores etc there simply isn't enough people who need the sort of supplies he use to sell.

  11. Recent 'nobilization'. Similar to the above, nobles started to expand out into previous more 'middle class' areas, driving up property values and rapidly driving the former middle class people out (both because they can make so much money selling to new nobles, and because nobles likely took action to drive out the 'dirty peasants' from their new area). This would likewise cause stores that catered to middle class folk, but not nobles, to shut down. This sort of thing happened often in the past, as new nobility couldn't buy houses that existed in old nobles families for generations they would instead build houses on the outskirts of the previous nobles area, expanding the 'nobility area' out to include their new houses and driving those how use to live there further back. This also means the stores may be relatively cheap, since new nobles are only now taking over the area the property values may not be as high as the more established noble districts yet, and new nobles tend to be younger and potentially more interested in taking advantage of new unique business ideas as opposed to the 'old nobility' which tend to be more set on tradition and the old ways.

  • $\begingroup$ Just a quick enhancement to #4. The owner might not have died. Rather he/she might have retired to someplace warm and less mobile. $\endgroup$ Dec 27, 2015 at 20:47

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