Businesses in Old Town find success despite economic hardships

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Summer Schriner, owner of Grace Boutique of Old Town, helps one of her costumers find an outfit on Sept. 6, 2015. Photo by Sergio Martínez-Beltrán

Summer Schriner, owner of Grace Boutique of Old Town, helps one of her costumers find an outfit on Sept. 6, 2015. Photo by Sergio Martínez-Beltrán

By Sergio Martínez-Beltrán
Old Town Lansing Times staff reporter

In a world where the economic markets are failing, it is hard for owners of small businesses to maintain their businesses while competing with megastores.

However, there are places that are sustain just by small, local businesses — Old Town Lansing is one of these places.

According to the Old Town Lansing business directory antique stores, restaurants, clothing stores, pet stores and creative companies have stayed in Old Town Lansing.

But, why Old Town Lansing and not Downtown Lansing or any other community?

“The rent is cheaper than downtown for the most part and that could be a starting point,” Old Town Commercial Association Executive Director Austin Ashley said. “But I think more important than that is the energy and the sense of community that we have down here.”

For Ashley, having different businesses that offer unique services and barely overlap has contributed in part to the success of Old Town Lansing.

“It’s also … looking at what kind of market we currently serve and what can we do and what businesses can we have that could complement that,” Ashley said.

Ashley said the clientele of Old Town Lansing ranges from affluent females to college students and young professionals.

But the success of a neighborhood in the current economic climate can vary.

Zachary Neal, assistant professor in the Global Urban Studies Program within the Department of Psychology at Michigan State University, said grassroots efforts by the neighborhood to encourage residents to shop locally could be key in a successful community.

“In Old Town Lansing, the Michigan Institute for Contemporary Art, which is responsible for hosting the BluesFest and JazzFest, has been particularly successful at this,” Neal, who specializes in urban sociology, including business networks, said in an email.

Neal also said nonprofits play an important role in attracting customers and businesses into the community.

And many businesses in Old Town Lansing have been part of the development of the community.

October Moon has been in the neighborhood for 14 years, growing as a business as the customers’ demands increases.

October Moon Owner Aura Ozburn said there are many factors that have contributed to her store’s ability to stay in business.

“Loyalty to my customers, posted hours that are followed, nice items, good service,” Ozburn said. “I mean, all of it, it’s not just one component.”

Other business owners agree.

Summer Schriner, owner of Grace Boutique of Old Town, has been in Old Town Lansing for eight years and said her business has been successful because of the niche she serves and the attention she her store gives to clients.

“A lot of businesses that not succeed don’t keep regular hours,” Schriner said. “(They) don’t seem to respect the time of customers.”

Ozburn, who said she wants to stay in Old Town Lansing, said the sense of community is one of the things that have made her stay for 14 years.

“I love the historical neighborhood and when I first opened up it was extremely dilapidated and unloved for the most part,” Ozburn said. “But you could see people were trying so hard and you could feel it but it was not necessarily visual. Many people were afraid of the neighborhood.”

Many of the business owners volunteer in the different fundraisers organized by the Old Town Commercial Association to raise money for the betterment of the community.

The Old Town Commercial Association hosts more than five fundraising events, including the Old Town Scrooge Scramble 5K and the Old Town Oktoberfest.

Old Town Commercial Association building at 1232 Turner St., Lansing. Photo by Sergio Martínez-Beltrán

Old Town Commercial Association building at 1232 Turner St., Lansing. Photo by Sergio Martínez-Beltrán

“I’ve watched a lot of businesses come and go,” Ozburn said. “Even though you are in an urban environment you feel like you are in a small town… and you don’t have to agree but you support each other and you listen to each other and that is quiet refreshing.”

But there are different reasons that could contribute the departure of businesses from Old Town Lansing.

“There are many different factors… the most obvious is a lack of demand (and) revenue,” Neal said. “But for some businesses that close quickly, this may be driven by insufficient starting capital.”

If a business wants to be successful, it is imperative for it to have a sufficient starting capital, Neal said.

“New businesses often take several years before they become profitable, so opening a new business requires a sufficient reserve of capital to cover expenses until the business generates a profit,” Neal said. “If a new business opens on a very limited budget, it may be unable to withstand the initial costs of getting started.”

Ashley said many of the businesses in Old Town Lansing can sustain themselves and have built a clientele that grows every year.

And having loyal customers can make a difference in small businesses.

“There is a pride, because there is ownership… the difference between owning and renting,” Ozburn said. “Old Town shows ownership.”

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