Another one bit the dust. The third or fourth little bakery/cafe in a row suddenly closed. The owners were hard-working and personable, and prices around here are always reasonable, but something always seems to be off, like their 10 am - 2 pm hours. There is parking to be found, all free. The odds against any of these little shops surviving must be staggering. I'm not sure anyone who keeps aspirations and emotions out of the equation and considers only the hard facts would ever open a small business in a small downtown.
We had a big, busy bakery cafe in town for years, named after its owner, chef Dingeldein, formerly of the Hotel Hershey, which was esteemed enough to draw customers from across the river and the region. We also had, for three decades, an Irish themed restaurant and bar that had the same status (although not the same high quality food products). Both were in old buildings, with a load of character and an equal load of physical problems -- and both are gone despite their popularity. The main thoroughfare, Bridge Street (so called, but actually Third) has constant traffic but little of it stops. Someone in the past did have the brilliant idea of eliminating the parking meters, which keep me (and probably others) away from Carlisle and Harrisburg, but that's not enough. The post office seems to be the only storefront that will probably not go blank suddenly.
A pair of shops further up the street have housed so many six-month enterprises it's hard to recall them. Diners do well around the area and seem to last for decades, but the 24-hour one at Fourth Street seemed closed today as we drove by. I knew the ramshackle building they opened in had been for sale for $450,000 -- I hoped they didn't pay near that; you can't pay that kind of mortgage off with $2 breakfasts. Maybe they found that out the hard way.
I know of a few businesses operated as a hobby by ladies with husbands who came with high incomes, an inherited building or family money. For those trying to make a living at it all on their own, though...good luck.
The sale prices of these old buildings, and the rents, are nowhere in line with the condition they're in. One has a wet, slipping foundation so bad it won't sell, and poor slobs (at least six I can think of over recent years) pay, most likely, far too much rent which bails out the owner but does who knows how much damage to their own futures. Even the former home of Dingeldein's bakery (now a deli, which seems to be hanging in there), has really deficient electrical service in the front of the store where refrigeration units are usually placed. Heating and cooling these spaces, especially at commercial rates, is eventually an unsupportable expense (as one former business lady explained to me). And there is insurance of all kinds, as well as permits, fees and licenses.
A higher-end men's resale clothing shop opened a while ago, and we've bought some very good things there for very little. There is no competition, but the demographic around here is just old, and neither retired white-collar or still-working blue-collar older men buy nice clothes. The former have closets full they won't wear out, and the latter get replacements at Wal-Mart. A pilates and a yoga studio have opened on either side; time will tell whether that kind of service business can last.
No one has any answers. A half-dozen malls have failed in Richmond, VA, and that is a bigger, richer and more vibrant market than we'll ever have here. And they have tried everything, at huge expense, to bring back their downtown, which used to have everything. Now, it's like: