West Ridge has lost many businesses in the past two years. Some of that is due to coronavirus. Some of it is just the normal business cycle, and some of it occurred because our small businesses are so woefully undercapitalized. West Ridge also suffers from market saturation, with too many stores selling the same kind of merchandise to too small of a customer base.
Nobody likes to see a business go under but a walk on any of our commercial streets demonstrates the real opportunity that now exists for the community to create a retail experience that is more reflective of our diverse community than it was before face masks and lockdowns became a way of life.
Now may well be the time when interested residents should begin emailing and texting friends and neighbors to arrange virtual meetings to discuss the possibilities that blocks of vacant storefronts present. What a community project! With the lockdown rules still in flux, it’s not the time to open a business but it certainly seems to be a time to begin dreaming of one–maybe starting with a pop-up store, or a holiday shop.
Among the businesses proposed in happier times:
- Old-fashioned coffee shop
- Book shop with coffee and pastries
- Kids’ clothing shop
- American-style diner/sandwich shop
- Bowling alley
- Yarn shop
- Toy store
- Used book store
- Baby clothing store
- Gift shop
- Candy store
- Cheese shop
Many residents have many other ideas. I think that if residents could pull together and redesign even one block, it could start the economic transformation that the neighborhood needs. Can’t you just picture a row of of specialty shops, the storefronts united by a common theme, perhaps awnings of the same color? With plants framing the front doors? The kind of place that makes you want to come right in and buy whatever they’re selling?
Our economic and business planning should focus first on the needs of residents and then on the wants of transient populations, like tourists and the occasional shopper from the suburbs. Shopping should be built around the idea that it’s best to shop locally, supporting local merchants and keeping as much money in the neighborhood as possible.
In order to help with the nation’s economic recovery, there’s a lot of money available for business loans and start up costs. It’s not always obvious where to go to get this money, but more and more public officials at all levels are beginning to focus on how to connect entrepreneurs to cash. It’s also possible to put funding together through friends and family.
Those considering opening a business might also visit the City’s BACP (Business Affairs & Consumer Protection) office. BACP offers free workshops on everything from how to rent space to launching an ad campaign to spread the word about your business, and covers everything in between. Food businesses would be a risky venture, given that they’re the easiest to shut down, especially if customers or staff come down with coronavirus. On the other hand, people gotta eat.
Local resources include the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce and Devon Bank, which has been advising and supporting local businesses for decades.
Let’s not give up on the idea of Trader Joe’s. We may look better to them now that we have so many whole blocks in various areas available for development.
Good luck to all present and future West Ridge entrepreneurs!