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Published: Thursday, 5/31/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Businesses struggle to reverse decline

Some stores are empty, fewer cars seem to stop

BY KRIS TURNER
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Caper's Restaurant & Bar sits between empty storefronts in a South Toledo strip mall. Owner Sue Meadows says she has watched neighbors go. She leads a business association that aims to revive patronage. Caper's Restaurant & Bar sits between empty storefronts in a South Toledo strip mall. Owner Sue Meadows says she has watched neighbors go. She leads a business association that aims to revive patronage.
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The vestiges of bygone businesses surround Caper's Restaurant & Bar.

A Country Grains Bread Co. sign hangs on the wall of a vacant storefront next to the South Toledo eatery. The former Premier Dry Cleaners that occupied the strip mall's corner sits empty. The mural advertising it, however, still stretches across the building's side.

Bright yellow "for lease" signs with bold, black lettering pop against the neutral interiors of the idle businesses.

Sue Meadows has watched her fellow business owners pack up and leave in the 10 years she has owned Caper's. Things became especially bad in the past five years, she said.

"This is a crying shame because it's an assortment of locally owned businesses," Ms. Meadows said.

The vacant storefronts are just one sign that businesses at the intersection of Byrne Road and Heatherdowns Boulevard are struggling -- parking lots near the crossroads were sparsely populated Tuesday afternoon.

The sluggish economy, development of a Walmart Supercenter less than two miles away on Glendale Avenue, and a shift in traffic patterns have accounted for most of the lost business, said Ms. Meadows, who also heads the Byrne Village Heatherdowns Business Association.

A sign at Caper's encourages shoppers to consume local products and visit area enterprises. A sign at Caper's encourages shoppers to consume local products and visit area enterprises.
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That association was formed to combat the decline in customers, she said. It sponsored a car show a few weeks ago and holds a farmer's market every Tuesday to draw people from the surrounding neighborhoods.

Still, another of Ms. Meadows' neighbors, Joe I Cooper Florist Inc., revealed plans to The Blade to close its doors this week. Owner Jeff Millns said the store is consolidating in its Waterville location to be more cost-effective. Mr. Millns didn't comment beyond confirming the closing.

Fleeger's Pro Hardware, a staple in the Toledo area for 65 years, closed in late February.

The remaining business owners in the area have banded together to promote one another and take part in group advertising.

By uniting, they can keep costs down while hopefully drumming up new clientele, Ms. Meadows said.

The economy expedited the rapid decrease in customers and increased the financial pressure on businesses in the area, said Eric Bilger, owner of Allied Music of Ohio. The traffic doesn't stop in the area anymore, he said, possibly because of the Walmart that was built in 2004.

"It's probably been a snowball effect," Mr. Bilger said. "It's just one after the other."

Walmart spokesman Daniel Morales said small businesses that don't directly compete with Walmart generally profit once a new store is up and running.

Maria Zimmerman serves lunch for Kevan Toney and Mike Richardson of Toledo at Caper's Restaurant & Bar. Maria Zimmerman serves lunch for Kevan Toney and Mike Richardson of Toledo at Caper's Restaurant & Bar.
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But the lack of foot traffic is a problem for businesses that would profit from customers who peruse merchandise, Mr. Bilger said. If people aren't stopping at businesses near the intersection, there's no way to get them into the stores, he said.

Although Allied Music of Ohio is surviving, Mr. Bilger said he's given thought to relocating to Perrysburg, Sylvania, or elsewhere. Many businesses have an easier time in the suburbs, he said.

A vacant building that once housed a Big Boy restaurant next to the strip mall that contains Caper's is up for lease. It might be razed to make way for a new development, said Kurt Pollex, senior associate in retail services for CBRE Reichle Klein, which is handling the property.

A new business hopefully could capture some of the 50,000 people who travel by every day, he said.

Wendy Gramza, executive vice president of the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, said she wasn't familiar with the specific struggles of the businesses in the Byrne-Heatherdowns area, but recommends they reach out to the community through advertising and events -- letting people know you're there is half the battle, she said.

"As neighborhoods transition and as traffic patterns move, sometimes the location that used to really fit into your travels, down the road it doesn't," she said.

Contact Kris Turner at: kturner@theblade.com or 419-724-6103.



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