Few vacancies signal good news for downtown
There are signs that the Michigan economy is rebounding — slowly, but surely. The following is the fifth in a series of stories that point to a more positive outlook in areas that affect Tecumseh and the surrounding communities.
When families feel the pinch of a drooping economy in their own pocketbooks, that’s when discretionary spending is frequently reigned in. Restaurants and retail businesses throughout the country have struggled in the economic downturn over the past few years, and businesses that operate in Tecumseh have also experienced a more difficult time during the recession.
“As a floral business, we’re a discretionary purchase, unlike food that people have to have, and we began to experience a steady decline a few years ago,” said Jan Fox, owner of Grey Fox Floral in Tecumseh. “In some cases, people still bought flowers, but did it in much smaller quantities.”
One of the ways that Grey Fox coped was to diversify by offering space in the building to other business ventures. Fox’s husband, Gary, retired a couple of years ago and opened Tecumseh Coins.
“His shop has actually become a destination because people who collect coins search out coin shops and will come to town specifically for that,” said Fox. She added that Netty’s Books, a used book shop, has been in the building for awhile now and has made a little niche for itself. Susan Serafin added Dip Stix, which sells food and gift products, a year ago.
“Probably the biggest boost to our facility has been the addition of Michigan Wares,” said Fox. “It was Susan’s idea after she attended a conference, but we now have Michigan-made products from 22 vendors, most from within a 35 mile radius. That’s helped us out a lot.”
Fox said she’s definitely seeing positive signs as more people come into the store. Fox has been in business for 40 years and is a charter member of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and a member of the Central Business Association (CBA). She credits both groups with being “critical” to helping bring people to Tecumseh.
“If we didn’t have the events and promotions going on, there’s no way I would be able to promote my business the way those activities do,” she said. An event such as Tecumseh’s signature Appleumpkin brings more than 20,000 people to the front door of area businesses, and the DDA and CBA do a great job of promoting that on behalf of all the businesses.
Tecumseh Economic Development Director Paula Holtz agrees that the collective effort of both groups, working in partnership with the city, does help showcase what Tecumseh has to offer.
“We’ve always done well in the Northwest Ohio market, one of our targets, and people definitely like to come up and visit our downtown from there and other areas,” said Holtz, “especially when the weather gets nicer.” The Ice Sculpture Festival is one of the activities that has also helped draw visitors in the Winter months.
Holtz said Tecumseh is fortunate, even more so than some other communities, in that it has had a pretty steady occupancy rate in its core downtown and even most of the side streets.
“Even during the economic downturn, we had a pretty high vacancy rate and I’m very happy to say that right now, our downtown spaces have very full storefronts right now,” she said. “We’re almost at a point where we’re going to be having a waiting list.”
Brandi Moore, assistant manager at The Wild Iris, said she’s seen positive signs as well.
“For us, we’ve been really lucky and I don’t think we saw business drop off as much as some have gone through, but we’re seeing more traffic lately,” said Moore. “I’m sure it will pick up even more when the weather warms up.”
Additional new businesses such as The Spotted Cow and Foundation Realty on the southwest block of the boulevard have increased both retail and service business in the city.
Restaurant businesses have not only struggled as families have had to pull back and eat out less, but now face the challenges of higher food prices, some brought on by the drought conditions growers have experienced. But some local restaurants have worked harder to survive during tough times.
Kathy and Tom Carey took a leap of faith when they opened The Dog House a year ago on Chicago Boulevard in the former Eggleston Jewelers building despite the rough economy.
“I don’t know if there’s ever a good time to open a restaurant, but for us, it was now or never for our family situation,” said Kathy Carey. “Things have gone well and we had a good winter. When the weather gets nice, we’ll see more customers.”
Carey said food prices definitely do impact the restaurant business.
“We have to re-evaluate our menu since everything has gone up,” she said. “We will try to find a balance in keeping prices reasonable and still be able to stay in business.”
Evans Street Station worked hard to remain viable during the past few years, and even expanded the business by opening the Glass House Café in Ann Arbor.
“Part of the reason we opened was because it was clear to us around 2007 that we needed an alternative source of revenue,” said Richard Johnson, Evans Street owner who also serves as Mayor of Tecumseh. “We have gotten some bids that have definitely helped with that.”
Johnson said during the past few years, the restaurant has “stayed true” to itself, and chose not to undercut itself by offering coupons and deals.
“We have our menu priced fairly and wanted to keep it that way,” he said.
Johnson said the news of increasing food prices is real and he has seen continuing increases since around 2007 or 2008 as prices steadily climb.
“We’re doing everything we can to manage our price, because it’s best to keep prices where they are whenever we can,” he said. “We’re always getting competitive bids on every product that we sell.” He acknowledged that if a price jumps up at a high rate, restaurant owners might have no choice but to adjust. “If the price jumps 20 percent, you’re going to have to accommodate that somewhere,” he said. Johnson is confident, however, that Evans Street Station will continue to be true to itself and business will pick up.
“I’ve definitely seen some positive signs,” he said. “I think the recession really hit us in 2007, 2008 and 2009, but I believe we’re slowly and surely climbing out of it.”
The attitude of many business owners could best be described as cautiously optimistic.
“A few years ago we were on a steady decline, but now, truthfully, we’re starting to have a slight upturn,” said Fox. “It’s just enough to give us hope!”