Life advice from a 30-year old by Brendan Uhl

Posted May 23, 2018 at 3:14 pm

Q: What are your feelings on such a “quiet” and “dead” Main Street in Akron, especially in the evening hours, for both the people living there and their visitors. Sure looks like Westfield enjoys the evening business. Your thoughts?

A: Thanks for your question, this is something I’ve been thinking about recently. My initial thoughts are that downtown Akron is going to bounce back soon. After all, what does Westfield have that Akron doesn’t? A bar, mainly, but I suspect it won’t be long before someone decides to set up shop downtown.

Here’s the good news: The Pizza Ranch re-opened recently, Jo’s Café has been open for years, Akron Lanes has been purchased and plans to reopen, the Akron Lumber Company has re-opened, and I heard a rumor last weekend that one of the bars has been sold. Akron is more than capable of supporting small businesses, and it appears that local entrepreneurs are placing their bets.

Now, starting a business and keeping a business open are two very different things. What does it take to keep a business open? In no particular order: 1) A quality product, 2) Community support, 3) Profit (which requires a competent business owner). Those are the essentials. Sounds overly simplified, right?

Let’s take the example of a bar. Every small town can support a bar. There are always going to be people willing to go in and try out the new watering hole (community support), but can the bar provide a quality product? Good food, reasonable prices, friendly service, and entertainment to name a few. Can the business owner turn a profit? Hiring the right help, delegating responsibilities to the help, finding creative ways to get patrons in the door, and managing the books to name a few. Like most other things in life, the answers are simple, but the execution is never easy. It’s our job as a community to give the business a fair shot, but the responsibility ultimately rests on the business owner to provide a quality product at a profit.

Stepping out of specifics for a moment, I think it’s prudent to take a high-level look at this as well. I think there are some important questions any small-town business owner should be asking themselves. With respect to the local community: Why should they spend their money at my store? What is it that my business has to offer that they cannot get in the closest city? On the other hand, I think small-town businesses often leave themselves vulnerable by relying too heavily on the local community for support. I wonder, how is it that small town businesses can provide a product that draws people from the city in the evenings? What is it that we have here that they can’t get in the city? Do people in the city even know who we are and what we have to offer?

I’ll leave you with the example of Bob’s Bar in Martinsburg, NE. Population 90 and falling. College kids, bike-riders, and city-slickers of all kinds make the trek to one of the smallest towns around to eat a greasy burger and cheeseballs. Why is that? Food for thought.

Until next time folks, support your local businesses!

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