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Bailout too late for some Auburn businesses

By: Gloria Young, Journal Staff Writer
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Since the beginning of the year, at least one business has closed and two others are preparing to close within the next few weeks in Auburn. Tough times are having an impact on business in general, said Auburn Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bruce Cosgrove. “Generally, I think business people were expressing concerns that we would have significant business closures after the first of the year,” he said. “It is now two months into the year and we haven’t had as many closures as was thought. I see that as a more positive outlook.” Kitchen Things, Inc. in the Bel Air Shopping Center is down to nearly bare shelves as owner Jenny Gossen prepares to shutter the store. She and her mother, Janet Glenn, have owned the store for five years, selling cookware, gadgets and specialty food items to those who love to cook. The business had been struggling against the tide for about a year and a half, Gossen said. Finally, the combination of fewer sales and rising rent became too much. “It’s too tough to have a business in Auburn now,” she said. “I lost 30 pounds last year.” During the past few weeks, Gossen has marked down inventory from 25 to 40 percent and watched as loyal customers and some new faces grabbed up the bargains. “I saw people coming in who were able to buy things they normally couldn’t afford, and that made me happy for them,” she said. Customer Joanne Poverello of Lake of the Pines stopped by last week looking for a cherry pitter — and even with most of the inventory sold, was able to find one. “I’ve bought a few things here. This is a good place to come when you want something you can’t find anywhere else,” Poverello said. “I’m sorry to see them go.” At Simply Striking in Downtown Auburn, owner Margie Talbot has run the women’s clothing store for more than 10 years. Talbot declined to discuss her reasons for closing or reveal her future plans, saying only that she’s retiring and will likely keep the store open until the end of March. Petunia’s Bakery, Baskets and Boutique on Auburn Ravine Road, which opened last summer, has totally ceased operation. Owner Rachel Brandin, who opened the shop as an extension of her love of baking, offered freshly baked cookies, cakes and desserts in a sunny corner shop. The closure of the bakery brought a letter to the Journal from Bonnie Hansen of Auburn, who asked, “Where, my little Petunia, have you gone?” “This was finally a bakery where one could get a wonderful scone or cookie, within reason, and they were delicious,” she wrote. “I felt like every cake I received was hand baked just for me.” Although the phone number posted on the door indicated Petunia’s still offers catering, the line has been disconnected and Brandin could not be reached for comment. The recession is on everyone’s mind, Cosgrove said. “Everybody is talking about the economy,” he said. “It is over lunch or over coffee. It’s a topic of discussion at every meeting we hold. The economy is part of the warm-up of any conversation when you get together with business people. Pleasantries used to be about how your day is doing and the weather. Today the first word out of people’s mouths is the economy and where we’re going with it.” But businesses are coping. “There is a stronger sense that we can’t wait for a bailout,” Cosgrove said. “We can’t wait for the economy to turn. There is this sense that (small business) is in our hands. We have to do what we have to do and not wait for something on a broader — statewide or national — scale to change economic conditions. … In that sense, it is more pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and making it happen. That’s what I’m sensing.” Cosgrove sees a small ray of sunshine behind the clouded outlook. “I think the stimulus package and what is being attempted has a positive impact,” he said. “Although we haven’t felt it yet, (we know) something is coming and that’s good.” The Journal’s Gloria Young can be reached at glo riay@goldcountrymedia.com or comment at Auburnjournal.com.