Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Making it on Main Street

It’s a new year and like many Main Street, USA locations, there are changes on ours. What allows a business to “make it” over time? Surely there are some lessons to be learned from various businesses that have flourished over the years.
I took some time to talk to business owners who have been in town for years and those who have taken over long term businesses. Others, who are relatively new had other things to add to the mix.
Just in the last few years, I have seen dozens of businesses go out or change locations: Gee’z, Minx, the Alley, Cinnamon Productions, Grandma’s Cookies, Gallery 212, Barbara’s Beauty, Old Town Travel, White Sage, and the list goes on and on.
Still others have changed hands and flourished, like Bay Hardware. Diana Brunjes, the new owner said, “There is a camaraderie here in town that I haven't ever experienced before, we all [businesses] want to see one another succeed. Main Street is very lucky to have such a large variety of unique and eclectic shops. Sure, the beach helps, but I think it's the shops and restaurants that keep people coming back.” So diversity as a whole and the fact that we look out for each other, as a community is key.

Tarit Tanjisari, owner of Crema Café also felt that focusing on the basics: food quality and customer service have been keys to success. “By trying to delight the customer every time they eat with us, we get them back. We provide not just great food, but an experience they want to share and repeat. Plus, who doesn’t love fresh baked pastries?” In just four years, Tarit and his team has made the Crema Café a destination regionally for epicureans. Just look at his Yelp page! This in turn spills over to other businesses as customers not only dine, but shop and stroll our entire Main Street corridor.
Joe Kalmick, has been a shop owner on Main Street for over 30 years. Recently moving his shop from one side of Main to the other in the 200 block, he looks back and realizes what others haven’t, “businesses have failed because they didn’t match their dreams with the reality of the overhead. What does it cost to open your doors each day?” He also makes a conscious effort to connect with customers so they feel appreciated. “You have to make every effort to have each customer come back. In a town this size, we love the local business and we need to attract shoppers from outside of our own community. Give them a reason to come back.”

Another key seems to be referrals. Joe makes a point of highlighting belinda’s Art on Glass. He will refer business out to her and vice versa as the customers needs might change. belinda also has produced the Arts & Crafts Fair for years, and this level of community engagement has helped maintain her business as one of the art resources for miles around.

Who hasn’t noticed the incredible success of Gabe and Lena Gordon and Beachwood BBQ? They have created a niche and filled to capacity, every night they are open. Actively engaged in bringing their unique approach to basic commodities – beer and barbeque, they have the “Hop Cam” and Twitter feed showcasing what they have on tap. There is a fresh, vibrant energy in their restaurant which invites you back to try new things, like their Alligator & Tasso Stew or such an epicurean brew as Midnight Sun Monks Mistress (sounds tantalizing even as I read it from the cam). Keeping things new and fresh also seems to help a business stay alive in our Main Street.

With fresh and new, there must also be tried and true. Clancy’s, the Irisher, Hennesey’s & O’Malley’s, the “Four Horsemen of St. Patrick’s Day,” all have survived and flourished for decades. They are the good, old stomping grounds for many locals and those who come back to Seal Beach during college breaks or when visiting family in town. Often an impromptu meeting of classmates or reunions can be found at these spots.

Other fresh new expansions like Jacqueline’s Boutique and her second store, just a block away, Ensemble, both are bringing in destination shoppers from all around. French and European flair draw customers in. Recently, she shared with the community a fashion show with both professional and amateur models in her outfits. Again, it is the effort of creating excitement which helps propel her businesses to new heights.

Erik Dreyer-Goldman, of Ask Erik Computer Services has been in two locations – both the 100 and 300 blocks of Main Street. While he enjoyed, the 100 block, as a service provider, the 300 block seems to suit him better. “Most of the 300 block are destination businesses, while the 200 block and down to the pier could be considered more ‘walk in.’ Regardless, the longer you’re in business on Main Street, the more likely it is that you’ll get repeat business if you’re good at what you provide.”
Finally, it is clear that both locals and visitors need to use all of our businesses for them to stay viable. Keep true to your dream, keep your feet on the ground and your ear to your customers and you, like the success stories above, will make it.

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