Area business organizations work hard to buffer against hard economic times


Jim’s Barber in Seward has definitely felt a change in business with the recent downward spiral of the economy. Customers who usually get their haircut once per month are now waiting about every six weeks — a 33 percent drop in business.

As consumers are more frugal with their spending habits, a lot of businesses are feeling the pinch, and some have even closed.

“It’s just the beginning,” said Jim Welna, president of the Seward Civic and Commerce Association (SCCA).

Links to Bridge-area business associations:

Dinkytown Business AssociationLongfellow Business Association

Seward Civic and Commerce Association

West Bank Business Association

Northeast Business Association

East Downtown Council

Stadium Village Commercial Association

One neighborhood that has faced more battles than just the economic downturn is Longfellow. During the recent reconstruction of Lake Street, businesses suffered because entryways to buildings were blocked off. Now that reconstruction has finished, the businesses that have survived face the recession. Some businesses are implementing spending freezes, cutting hours and layoffs of employees.

Longfellow is also just one of the neighborhoods facing yet another obstacle: higher property taxes. With the residential property taxes being lowered with the poor housing market, retail property taxes are raising 15–20 percent, Welna said. The rise in taxes and the drop in business put businesses at a disadvantage, said Scott Cramer, co-chair of the Longfellow Business Association (LBA), which holds its annual meeting on April 9, 11:45 a.m.–1:30 p.m. at T’s Place, 2713 E. Lake St.

“It’s hurt,” Cramer said. “If you’re already in the hole, it’s just going to get deeper.”

“As business drops, it affects all of us,” Welna said. “Seward is still a very vibrant place though.”

Other neighborhoods feel the same way.

“Business, for the most part, is down,” said Scott Parkin of the Northeast Business Association (NEBA). “But Northeast is a popular neighborhood, so cash registers are still ringing.”

The overall theme at local business association meetings is that they encourage the business community to band together by promoting local businesses, which are typically owned by locals. The Longfellow campaign of “Buy local. Buy Longfellow” seems to be a trend in all nearby neighborhoods. The SCCA’s goal in Seward is for citizens to be able to go to work, school, play, pray, eat and feel fulfilled, Welna said. If they keep the money local, the smaller businesses won’t be as harmed by the economic downturn.

Businesses in the Northeast and Dinkytown neighborhoods are being more careful about their advertisements, spending and savings to make sure they get more bang for their buck. Businesses need to keep marketing and offer deals; although it will cut profit margins, it will at least keep people coming through the doors, Parkin said.

Businesses are also moving to more appealing locations and doing renovations to give customers a more attractive scene. It is a good time to buy a building property, but no one in their right mind would open a business in the middle of winter (in Minnesota), let alone in this economy, Cramer said.

In near Northeast, NEBA has worked to bump up their website, and the association is preparing to kick off its 3rd year of spring events as part of its “I [Heart] NE” promotion.

Community events include the Ice Breaker and Boutique Fashion Crawl on April 18, during which sponsors will open their doors to the public and have door prizes, give-aways, trunk shows and other specials, and hand out free carnations to kick off the spring season. Another upcoming event will be the Northeast Dog Parade, where residents can dress up their dogs, show off tricks, win prizes and gather as a community.

The West Bank Business Association (WBBA) has the same train of thought. They are in the beginning stages of planning monthly themed “go-to” events. For April, neighborhood theaters and bars plan to host prom-based dances. Since most residents can no longer afford to travel for their entertainment, the West Bank is taking advantage of the opportunity to get their residents to enjoy entertainment locally. Lisa Hammer, the West Bank community organizer said there has been a surprising trend in keeping spending local. Although some businesses do notice that day-to-day businesses are down, special promotion events can make up for the loss.

The WBBA meeting attendance is up, and a big topic of discussion is safety. With a poor economy, crime rates are expected to grow, Hammer said. As a precaution, both Stadium Village and the West Bank are increasing security measures. The West Bank has implemented “Wednesday night walking safety patrol,” during which volunteers walk the streets of the neighborhood to keep an eye on activity, talk with locals and increase the feeling of safety.

With a new group of customers coming to the area every year — students, many of whom have money through loans — the University of Minnesota community has been impacted differently than the rest of the economy.

While the Stadium Village Commercial Association (SVCA) sees the Gophers’ new TCF Bank Stadium, opening this fall, with a sense of optimism, it is not a savior. The SVCA’s goal is to work with the university to encourage visitors to stick around while the traffic dies down. This means shuttles would need to run later, but it gets customers the most for their money.

Students who live on campus are a captive customer base, as well. Nancy Prybil, SVCA’s president, who works for Dinnaken House Apartments, said there’s been apartments have been 100 percent filled in her 17 years there. An increase in commuters coming from nearby suburbs could cause a drop in business in the future, she said, but she hasn’t seen that happen yet.

Skott Johnson of the Dinkytown Business Association said it’s tough, but small businesses are used to reacting quickly and taking advantage of every opportunity to promote their businesses. For example, if a particular sports tournament is in town, like boys’ state high school hockey, business owners can put up a sign in the window to specifically encourage those potential customers, said Johnson, who owns Autographics print shop.

Back across the river on East Lake Street, LBA’s Cramer said there is “no end in sight with bleak projections,” but said some types of businesses have a better chance.

“If your business is a destination point, you should be OK,” he said. “If your product can be bought anywhere, and/or could be postponed, you may be in trouble.”

The odds can improve when communities and businesses come together to improve a negative situation.

“It kind of brings us hope,” said NEBA’s Parkin.