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Auburn businesses finding ways to succeed in tough times

By: Gloria Young, Journal Staff Writer
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While many are feeling the effects of a recession, some local businesses are finding ways to succeed through do-it-yourself projects, Web site fine-tuning and bread-and-butter merchandising. The popularity of handmade crafts is drawing customers to Downtown Auburn’s Cabin Fever Quilt Shoppe. And owner Patti Henderson is expanding course offerings for those who like needlework. “We’re putting together small projects because we think more people are interested in staying home,” she said. “Staycations are a little lighter on the pocketbook.” The store has introduced make-and-take day, featuring economical projects and packaging ideas for gifts for friends and family. There are also projects for kids and even for people who don’t sew. “People still want to do things homemade. We’re still getting new people,” Henderson said. “We provide classes that fit into a busy schedule. You can make a shirt or pillow or pillowcase for less than you can buy it. And it is also special because it is homemade.” At the same time, Henderson is cutting back non-essential expenses. “Shipping is a huge cost factor,” she said. “So we’re working more with West Coast distributors.” She’s also saved a lot of postage by switching to e-mail communications with her customers. Cabin Fever’s Web site attracts customers from around the world. “We ship all over, from Sacramento to Canada and Australia,” Henderson said. In-store workings have been trimmed, too. “Last year we shifted to more economical shopping bags,” Henderson said. “If you bring in our bag, you get a discount.” At Auburn Needleworks in the Gold Country Mall, owner Lisa Whittet said she also is seeing an uptick in interest for handicrafts. “I’m offering a lot of classes,” she said. “That seems to help bring people in.” With the holidays on the way, more customers are turning to needlework gifts. “It has piqued people’s interest in doing more by hand,” Whittet said. Making the best of Internet resources is bringing a boost for Rob Huckins, owner of Auburn Moving Company. “We’re really stepping up our Internet advertising,” Huckins said. “We’re making sure our Web site is user friendly and attractive so (potential customers) don’t jump back off. (We want them) to switch that over to a phone call or e-mail. If you get on and want a quote, you can get one right there. It is really simple and easy.” Huckins also is putting in some extra effort to bring in business. “We’re working hard finding work. But we are doing that,” he said. “We’re doing a lot of door knocking — getting out there and beating the bushes.” Uptown Signs owner Jerry Kopp takes a similar approach. “We go out and get the jobs,” he said Tuesday. But Kopp also attributes his company’s success to being debt free, having a low overhead and having a longtime presence in the community. In business 15 years, the past 12 at the same High Street location, he gets a lot of repeat customers. “We try to be very community involved,” Kopp said. “We donate a lot to Little League and Scouts.” Then there’s also the flexibility of his product line. “A sign you only pay for once and you can use it over and over again,” he said. Next door in the Gold Country Mall, Lisa Hastie-Miller, owner of Scentchips, has seen a boost in visitors since she moved the store from its former location across from the Historic Courthouse. For her, the big dip in sales came in early summer when the courts were transferred to Roseville. “I’m seeing much more foot traffic, more locals and more tourists coming through,” she said about the new space. “The store is much more visible.” Hastie-Miller credits the stability of her business, in part, to pricing of her scented wax chips and other items. “I have reasonably priced products, including items under $5, so it is doable,” she said. Bruce Cosgrove, Auburn Chamber of Commerce executive director, is maintaining a positive attitude despite the constant barrage of bad economic news. “We’ve had a couple of other recessions that really had an impact on our local economy in the last 25 years, but nothing like this,” he said this week. “This is definitely a challenging time for all of us in business. But I have a lot of confidence in small business and business in general. Business constantly reinvents itself. … We’re going to get through this. What I hear from business people in the community is concern but a sense of ‘I’m going to make this work. I’m going to do what I have to do with my business to weather this storm and get through it.’” Gloria Young can be reached at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com or comment at Auburnjournal.com.