Retail optimism shifts from downtown to the mall

The term “Black Friday,” as it refers to the first shopping day after Thanksgiving, is intended to signal a change in the year’s retail direction from a deficit to a profit.

But some downtown Port Orchard merchants fear the so-called “biggest shopping day of the year” will do little to enhance their bottom line.

At the same time, merchants in the Port Orchard equivalent of “uptown,” the Towne Center Mall, have cause for optimism.

“It’s pretty bad down here,” said Mercedes Baudrand, owner of That’s Beautiful!. “If people want the downtown merchants to stay, they need to come down and buy something.”

John Ready, owner of Puget Sound Wine Cellars, has also felt tough times. Sometimes, he only gets five customers and takes in less than $40.

“I know I would get more traffic if I opened up in the strip mall located in the Fred Meyer parking lot,” he said, “although the rent would be a lot higher out there.”

After its own low ebb, Towne Center Mall has improved its business environment during the past year, according to Carter’s Chocolates owner Matt Carter.

“A lot of the things I have done recently have paid off,” Carter said. “My pecan turtles are flying out of here, and my ice cream business is doing really well. And it doesn’t seem to matter when the weather is cold.”

Another mall business that has expanded is Celebration Wines, which provides custom labels for its homemade wines. It opened last year in a small store tucked away at the end of a hallway on the second floor, but recently moved to a larger retail space on the first floor that includes increased retail space.

The custom label business has taken off, and the shop has produced a special Cedar Cove Days blend in commemoration of this summer’s festival.

“We’re getting more tenants,” said Jean Redd, who took over as the mall’s office manager earlier this month. “We’re offering smaller spaces at a reduced rent, which are ideal for small businesses that are starting out.”

Redd said the mall hasn’t given up on the idea of an anchor store, but concedes most chain businesses aren’t likely to invest at this time. And of all the possibilities, she would most like to see a bookstore combined with a coffee shop.

Downtown merchants such as Baudrand and Ready are hoping for a busy December, but are most concerned about carrying momentum through January and February — traditionally the year’s slowest months.

“I don’t know how much longer we can hold on,” Baudrand said.

Three restaurants — Jawapas, Hiro Sushi and Bayview Java — have also closed over the last few weeks.

One bright spot on the downtown firmament is Delilah Rene, who will be the owner of three downtown businesses. Delilah’s Cozy Kitchin is taking over a space newly vacated by its neighbor, and plans to also expand its menu and hours.

Rene’s clothing store, Hootchie Wear, and the Port Orchard Events Center are both expecting to open up their doors in December.

These three businesses represent a significant personal investment by Rene in the downtown area, which reached a peak this summer with her sponsorship of the Paint the Town project.

“I think downtown has tremendous potential,” Rene said.“There is a lot of talent here, as demonstrated by the Dance Gallery across the street. This is a bright spot that we should all support.”

Rene said she has a good business plan, but will not continue to support these businesses if they do not make a profit.

“I have my limits,” she said.

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