February 2020

As part of our economic development strategy, we periodically review local business health and new business opportunities. Now is an especially good time of the year to assess this since the holiday season is over and local businesses are “retooling” for a new year. It is also interesting to study small or local business activity at the national level as a point of reference for our city.

Nationally, the U.S. Bureaus of Labor Statistics reports only 50% of new business survive five years. These are startling statistics and point to the courage and vision of business start-ups. In Downtown Willoughby, we have proven small business successes and longevity. Consider DaveEd Jewelers, in business for over 60 years; or Kleifeld’s with a 50 years history; or Michael Stefan, Finestra Gallery, Major McKinney’s/Mullarkey’s and John’s Cafe/Morehouse with over one hundred combined years in business. Our downtown has a strong core of community-invested merchants, restaurants and bar owners.

Unfortunately, and occasionally, businesses fail or leave for different reasons such as an increase in rent, poor sales, lack of a business plan. These events are disappointing, but to be expected in small towns with local businesses. As author, Paula Jensen states, “People in small towns can stop talking negatively about what things their town has lost or what it used to be like. The changes in the rural Midwest are almost all microcosms of globalization. Rural is changing, not dying.” Jensen considers both small and rural towns of the Midwest to be the same in her analysis. An example of this was the many antique shops located in downtown at one time that left with the declining market demand. In 2019 we saw new investment in our Historic Downtown with the opening of nine new businesses, including Yogi’s Closet, Knowtion, My Mindful Market, Pulsart Media, Aware Marketplace, Etc. on Erie, Vidmar Custom Woodworking, D & K Sports, and Bangerter Law Office. We also witnessed a significant expansion of existing local businesses including Citizens Bank and Young’s Sushi. Overall, our downtown has seen steady growth focused on family-friendly retail and entertainment experiences. In talking with several of our bar and restaurant owners, they indicate the past few months were exceptional with Chaz Bloom of Hook & Hoof stating, “This was our best holiday season. Ever.” Furthermore, land values in our downtown are increasing, providing further evidence of our sustainability. With the continued support of our community, local businesses, and our economic development team, we are confident that our Historic Downtown will remain vibrant and thriving.

A new year brings new road construction, and our downtown will see a significant project underway undertaken by the Lake County Department of Utilities. For years we have endured waterline failures on Erie Street causing floods and disruption to our businesses and residents. The Erie Street waterline replacement will alleviate these issues but will be disruptive. We ask for your patience as the project is underway, and we expect completion of the work by mid-May.