Many small businesses in Carson Valley just aren't making it.
Paradise Café, which had been on The Record-Courier's "best of" list more than once, closed in November. Their answering machine said the restaurant had gone out of business and told its would-be customers to have a nice day.
Other closures were less clear. The floral service Just Roses near Minden Village vanished without a trace. Its shop next to Subway became a vacant building. There was no indication the business moved elsewhere, no contact information, just an empty office and a disconnected phone.
Specialty gift shops have been hit especially hard. Casa Bella Home & Garden Decor and The Watermelon Patch in Minden are both closing. Cooks Pantry, a seller of gourmet cookware in Gardnerville, is also shutting its doors.
"There's been a slowdown in the national economy and the local economy," said Thomas Harris, director of the University of Nevada, Reno's, Center for Economic Development. "With the housing bubble burst, there is apprehension in many areas. People are scared and defensive and saving money, not spending it."
Total reported taxable sales in Douglas County for the month of October was $57.8 million, down 7.3 percent from last year.
Cathy Morin, owner of Casa Bella, said that when she started her business in May 2006, sales were strong.
"When you're a small business, you base your investments on sale patterns from the year before," she said. "When those patterns drop off, and people stop buying your products, it hurts."
Morin said Carson Valley Inn's RV park across the street from her shop acted as a barometer for the local business climate.
"They had a lot of vacancies this summer," she said. "Less tourists."
Before she opened Casa Bella, Morin said the local economy looked good: Houses were being built and people were moving into the area. But when construction and growth slowed, people stopped spending money, she said.
"It's frustrating seeing business after business closing. It's a gamble. You never know until you do it. It's part of the entrepreneurial spirit. But part of business is also knowing when to walk away."
Morin didn't blame the box stores in north county for ousting her small business.
"It doesn't have to be either-or," she said. "Those stores offer a lot to consumers."
But Morin said the community should also support the small, independent stores to keep the area's small-town feel alive.
"There could be more resources for small businesses," she said.
Although Wal-Mart won't report sales for individual stores, Wal-Mart stores combined saw a 6 percent increase in net sales in 2007.
"I know the big boxes have a detrimental effect on us," said Judy Procaccini, owner of the Gardnerville boutique, Baby Willows. "Why can't we put more emphasis on the quality that you get and the customer service that you get from a small town business?"
Procaccini said although revenue is down, she's going to fight to keep her store open. "Got to hang in there," she said. "Small businesses need to promote awareness. For instance, people have preconceived ideas that small specialty stores are more expensive, but that's not true. You can find something with the same budget you'd use at a box store."
Economic development director Harris offered similar advice.
"Box stores don't have everything," he said. "Small businesses need to differentiate themselves and their products, be customer friendly and efficient and have an accurate business plan."
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