Business owners tightening their belts all around town

By: Gloria Young, Journal Staff Writer
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Many Auburn businesses are feeling the pinch of tough times. At Downtown’s Golden Swann Jewelry & Collectibles, owner Margareta Swann says this is the worst she’s seen it in the 30 years she has been at the store and a prior six years in the hotel business. “Eye candy is not a necessary item,” she said this week about the downturn in sales. For Swann, she saw sales fall after the 9/11 attacks, and they never fully recovered. “(Business) is not horrible, but it is way off,” she said. Although the downturn in the economy is a big issue, it’s not the only reason for fewer sales, Swann’s husband and store co-owner Ben Asgarzadeh said. “Collectibles are down because eBay has hurt small businesses with no sales tax,” he said. “How can you compete with eBay? They have no overhead.” Consumer belt tightening is encompassing food and beverages, too. Downtown Auburn’s Depoe Bay, which roasts its own coffee beans, has seen a 30 percent drop in business during the past two years, owner Dion Isaacson said. Isaacson doubled the size of the cafe about two years ago. “(After the expansion), for the first three months of 2007, the shop did exactly what we thought and increased,” he said. “Then a slow slide began in March 2007. It has been going down ever since, and I’m hoping we’ve reached bottom.” To cope with the times, the Isaacsons have shortened hours of operation, initially changing the 7 p.m. closing time to 5:30 p.m. and recently to 3:30 p.m. “People just started not coming in the afternoon,” Isaacson said. He’s cutting back in other areas, too. “We’ve lowered our labor percentage,” he said. “My wife and I do quite a bit more inside and I’ve taken a second job. The owners of the building have lowered our rent. We’ve cut everything we can possibly cut. … If it lasts too long, no one is going to wait it out.” Dining out is an area where James Van Eaton, owner of Winston Smith books in Downtown Auburn, has scaled back. “I’ve always lived cheaply,” he said. “I have Netflix for movies, this place for books and the library for audiobooks. But I’m definitely cutting down on going out to eat. I’m eating at home a lot more.” At Renee Travel, owner Julie Shelp said she’s seen about a 25 percent drop in business since this time last year. Residents are still taking trips, but they’re keeping a closer eye on costs. “A couple of years ago, it was pretty heady,” she said. “People were going everywhere. But during the last three months, they’re being much more careful.” Still, plenty of vacationers are snapping up bargains. “People are booking cruises because you get a lot for the dollar,” Shelp said. “And people are doing Mexico resorts because of the all-inclusive packages.” Hotels are cutting prices, too, in response to lower-than-usual bookings, she said. Shelp has taken some cost-savings measures, including not replacing an office employee who left for family reasons. Clothing sales, likewise, haven’t been spared. Linda Robinson, owner of Sun River Clothing in Old Town Auburn, said she has seen a difference in the past couple of months, although sales in general are down from five years ago. “It was down considerably for October, and November is not proving to be encouraging so far,” she said. “What I’m discovering and thinking is a lot of my customers come from Sun City Roseville and Sun City Lincoln Hills. They came into the county from the Bay Area with a lot of money five or six years ago. “With the stock market down and housing prices down and job losses, most of these folks are retired, but are heavily invested. So I’m assuming they’ve seen losses because I’m not seeing them up here.” Robinson, who has had the store for 14 years, is coping by offering storewide discounts, something she’s never had to do before, she said. “I just started a discount today,” she said Wednesday. “It finally hits you in the head and you realize you’ve got to do something to turn this thing around.” Robinson, who is in charge of Old Town’s twice-yearly antiques and collectibles street fairs, has seen changes there, too. “(At the fall street fair), vendors were waiting until the very last minute to pay their fees, because they didn’t have the money,” she said. “I gave them a chance during the day to make some sales (before paying the fees). People are buying less.” She is focusing on special attractions and activities as one way to boost visitors and sales, she said. “The reason I did the ‘Phenomenon’ movie (anniversary showing) is to get attention in Old Town and get people up here — with the movie and plaque and curiosity,” she said. But she remains steadfastly optimistic. “Everything is cyclical and we know that. … It’s a wait and see — hanging in to see what the holidays bring. The city is doing some commercials that they’re paying for. We need to stay visible. We need to stay positive. We need to say upbeat.” The Journal’s Gloria Young can be reached at gloriay@goldcountrymedia. com or comment at