Montana Avenue, a destination for the affluent and tourists, had become a victim of the recession but recently business has begun to pick up.
The 10-block street holds 240 businesses and by the middle of 2009 thirty-five businesses had closed. However, by the end of 2009 only about 20 storefronts were still empty. The owner of Three Bags Full and past Chair of the Montana Merchants Association (MMA), Jane Walker, told the Mirror back in July that the rents in the district are high. Many of the closures resulted when landlords wouldn’t negotiate lower rents with the storeowners after their sales began plummeting as a result of the recession. Now, she stressed, “more landlords are starting to work with the merchants, and are being more flexible but some are still holding out.”
Walker has continued to notice that people are still “buying less than they used to” because they are being much more careful about what they buy. Another issue is that retail stores are now competing with Internet sales and this has had a major impact on commercial real estate values. Montana has been able to compete more than the chain retailers with the Internet because it has so many boutique stores. These stores typically “offer things that customers can’t find anywhere else and they also receive good quality for their money.”
Like other retailers, Walker “had less inventory on hand during 2009” and will be putting less merchandise on sale after Christmas.
Montana restaurants according to Walker are still faring better because people are giving eating out a priority and they are not affected by Internet sales.
The Mirror also spoke with the current Chair of the MMA and owner of Café Luxxe, Mark Wain. He stated that it was “great to see life coming back to the street and he noted many business owners are beginning to feel that “perhaps the worst is over.” He also pointed out that some of the “landlords heeded our call to work with us.”
Wain also referenced some of the businesses that have opened recently on Montana. Spa and health club, Hyposi, florist, Stephanie Grace, Scribbles Press which offers activities for children, Two Chix Maternity, Pom Pom Interiors which specializes in interior decorating, and lastly interior design specialist Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic Coutres.
Business has also picked up at Café Luxxe. Wain explained that coffee is an “affordable luxury people like to have everyday and cafes serve as a community gathering center. People who are out of work come in to talk with their peers and to network.”
A positive that resulted from the recession according to Wain was that “business owners recognized that binding together was a great resource for weathering the storm and those bonds are continuing to grow.” His association is now “looking at new and improved ways to get feedback from merchants on what works and doesn’t work.”
Wain concluded that this year was “definitely a better holiday season than last year” for Montana even though their was less inventory on hand and fewer post Christmas sales.
Hannah Heineman* [email protected]