If downtown Wellington’s business district seems a bit quiet as of late, it isn’t a figment of your imagination.
Twelve empty storefronts occupy the area after Fantastic Gang Beauty Saloon closed its doors last week at 810 North Main St. It follows a troubling exodus of small businesses in the past two years that has included Scrubs by Lisa, Pocahontas Tobacco, Bows-n-Britches, Village Resale, and William Belle Antiques.
“I came here 45 years ago and this is definitely the highest amount of empty businesses that I have seen,” said Wellington Chamber of Commerce vice president Calvin Woods. “There’s too much competition in a small area and Wellington just doesn’t have the traffic to support it right now.”
Woods added that math doesn’t add up for entrepreneurs when they have to pay rent that averages around $800 a month on top of utility and insurance costs. He also said that clothing shops do not fit the current general market for the area, and that collectible and novelty shops currently have a much better chance of making a profit.
Main Street Wellington director Jenny Arntz agreed with Woods on a few of his points.
“From my speaking with business owners that have left, the foot traffic is just not where it needs to be right now,” she said. “Also, utilities and rent are too high, especially in these older buildings. Some, not all, but some landlords really need to reassess their pricing to be more competitive.”
All is not doom and gloom, Woods said. Wellington should be proud of small businesses that are still thriving, such as Farm and Home Hardware and Bread-N-Brew.
“We can’t give up,” he said. “We have one of the nicest hardware stores in the county and that’s proof that good things can be done here.”
Stephanie Saunders opened Preferred Care at Home in January on West Herrick Avenue, which she says provides home health care to clients stretching from Norwalk to Westlake in Lorain County and even as far south as Ashland. She said her landlord has wisely negotiated rent that does not impede her ability to grow her business.
“Our big problem here in Wellington can mostly be traced back to high rent,” she said. “It’s not a problem for us. We have a really awesome landlord and we get a good rate for the space we have. I think business owners also need to do their research so they know what kinds of products and services fit this area. Sometimes people, especially those from a small town, go into business without realizing the full extent of what that entails.”
Woods suggested creating a “small business task force” between the Chamber, village council, and business owners. Saunders agreed with that sentiment and that new stores would be much better off selling specialty items and collectibles.
“That’s why people come to a small town,” she said. “They come for a ‘Grandpa’s Cheese Barn’ or an old time candy store. I’m on the Chamber and we’re also a part of Main Street Wellington, so we’re definitely trying to create better collaboration with the village. That could end up being some sort of task force or committee.”
Mayor Hans Schneider weighed in on the subject and shared many of the same opinions.
“I think this is a struggle of many rural small towns,” he said. “Attacking this has to be a team approach between us, the Chamber, and the owners. We should also remain thankful and as supportive as possible for the businesses still here. We all want to make downtown Wellington a hot spot but that’s a process.”
Schneider said he is open to the possibility of creating a new committee on small business.
“I’m behind anything that helps make downtown business thrive and makes Wellington a destination to open and operate,” he said. “We’re not going to wake up tomorrow and find the magic formula for it. Look at Elyria’s Midway Mall. They are also losing stores and don’t seem to have the right formula right now for what their area wants. It’s too big of a job to put on one organization such as Main Street. They can’t do everything by themselves. It has to be many people putting their heads together to see what can be accomplished.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.
Photos by Jonathan Delozier | Wellington Enterprise The empty former site of Village Resale is becoming an all too familiar sight in downtown Wellington. Village officials and business owners are pointing to unfairly high rent as one of the main culprits.