Business closures cause for concern
DDA director believes cooperation the key to attracting, keeping businesses
December 12, 2007ALMONT — Last Saturday's successful Holly Day Light Parade did much to brighten—at least artificially—the current holiday season for downtown business owners.
The 10th annual event drew a good crowd and 21 lighted parade entries, evidence that residents will still come downtown when they are sufficiently enticed. Unfortunately, Santa comes to town only once a year—which may be about the same frequency some residents patronize the village's downtown district.
In recent weeks and months, three downtown businesses have closed their doors, leaving community leaders wondering where and when the next shoe will drop.
CC's Cyber Cafe left town several months ago, setting up shop in what the business owner described as a more profitable and "community-friendly" downtown Oxford.
More recently, Quini's restaurant (open less than a year) and the European Deli (for financial reasons) have closed for business, adding to a plethora of empty buildings in the downtown district.
Newly-installed Downtown Development Authority Director Nancy Boxey is acutely aware of the ramifications of the recent closings. While she cites the ongoing economic slump as a major factor, Boxey realizes the problem goes deeper.
"The overriding issue is the struggling economy," Boxey says. "But beyond that, we need to create an environment that is open and encouraging to businesses.
"We obviously need to start working together, to build relationships and demonstrate a willingness to bridge some gaps that have existed in the past."
Boxey says optimism, open minds and new ideas are needed to begin moving toward a more cohesive and prosperous business climate.
|Hard times have also hit the former European Deli on Main Street downtown, which reportedly closed its doors for financial reasons. photo by Tom Wearing.|
Among the items on her agenda are plans for informational workshops to benefit downtown business and building owners. They include promoting the availability of facade improvements, grants and loans for those wishing to make upgrades.
She also hopes to contact various building owners to see if there can be greater compatibility and understanding developed among tenants and landlords.
"I think there are some trust issues that need to be addressed," says Boxey. "We all need to be willing to come to the table and work to improve relationships that may have been damaged in the past."
Boxey realizes that change will not take place overnight, but she believes things can get better.
"We can't stop trying," says Boxey, "even if it means just taking some small steps.
"What we really need is to adopt a 'what can we do?' attitude,' rather than focusing on 'what won't work' or 'what didn't work' in the past. That's where we have to start —with compromise and positive attitudes."
Sharon Knust, who has owned and operated the Cinnamon Stick Flower & Gift Shoppe on Main Street for 23 years, has seen many businesses come and go. She says a variety of factors are contributing to the demise of downtown businesses.
"For one thing, I think the rent is way out of proportion for a small town," Knust says. "People just can't make it.
"Another thing is that because so many people work out of town, it's more convenient for them to shop elsewhere, even if they would like to support the local businesses. To find a parking spot downtown is not the easiest thing to do."
Knust adds that too many fledgling business owners have insufficient capital to survive the start-up period and inevitable hard times.
"It takes money and a lot of time to build up a business," says Knust. "It took us a good five years. People who are just starting out, sometimes aren't prepared to be in business."
While practicality and financial liquidity are critical for new business owners, Knust explains, new entrepreneurs seem willing to take the gamble.
And for all the projections that the economy is not likely to improve any time soon, Boxey notes one piece of good news for the downtown district.
"Within the next 90 days, SCR Spray Max will be moving into the old glass store next to Bucilli's," she says. "They're coming from Shelby Township and they sell and repair industrial and commercial airless paint sprayers."
The introduction of a single new business may not be the panacea for all that ails Almont's downtown district, but in Boxey's words, it may be a "small step" in the right direction.
To contact Nancy Boxey, call the DDA office, 134 Main St., at 798-8125.