During her first three years in business, Terri Budzyn couldn’t convince her customers to buy children’s clothes on consignment. Now, months into a nationwide recession, resale items are her lifeblood, she said.
“It’s my only route to go. It’s a matter of survival,” Budzyn, the owner of Krazy About Kids located in Constitution Court, said. “If there wasn’t a recession I never would have put it in.”
When Budzyn first opened her shop she intended to stock her shelves with a 50-50 mix of new and resale items, but the demand for gently used kids’ clothes at discounted prices simply wasn’t there. Then, around October and November of 2008, her customers began clamoring for less expensive items. It was also when sales figures began to slide, said Budzyn, and not just a little.
“We went from OK to falling off a cliff,” Budzyn said.
Meanwhile, a trendy children’s clothier located only a few blocks away wasn’t able to weather the storm. Treehouse Boutique, 7330 Madison, closed its doors in early February.
Budzyn isn’t celebrating the loss of a competitor. Instead, she joins merchants up and down the Forest Park corridor who are keeping one eye on their expenses and one eye on their neighbors.
Jerry Vainisi, president of Forest Park National Bank and owner of the now vacant storefront, called the shuttering a “confirmation of how small retailers are currently suffering.”
The grim realities of the economy are inescapable for many business owners in Forest Park who see the disheartening figures both at work and at home. The death knell is heard at least daily in reports of huge companies such as Circuit City going under, record job losses and massive government bailouts intended to keep the economy afloat.
At Shanahan’s restaurant, 7353 Madison, owner Tim Shanahan said it can be tough trying to put a shine on all the “doom and gloom” in the news, but it’s important that business owners continue to work hard and focus on customer service. Shanahan is hoping that $3 burger specials will help draw customers back to his restaurant. During a quiet Thursday lunch, Shanahan said his Super Bowl was “scary bad,” but the adversity forces him to be creative and work harder.
“Roll with it,” Shanahan said of hard times. “You gotta do it when you’re down so you can be there when it’s up.”
The Forest Park Chamber of Commerce and Development is working to help entrepreneurs maintain a chin-up attitude. Earlier this month, the business group arranged for a presentation on advertising strategies.
“I can see there’s some stress. It would be impossible not to have some stress,” Kokenes said of the mood in town. “But their energy is really positive.
“It’s really weird. Although you wish these times weren’t here, we’re learning a lot.”
Even in the grip of such a tough economy, Forest Park has reason to celebrate, said Kokenes. There is talk of several new businesses coming to town.
Among the newcomers expected to open is a vintage clothing store that will take over the storefront at 7511 Madison. That location has stood vacant since early 2008 when At 75 Eleven, another clothing store, closed after only 18 months. Coincidentally, the businesswoman behind At 75 Eleven was one of the first entrepreneurs along Madison to suggest publicly that a recession was moving in.
Heidi Vance, a co-owner at Team Blonde, 7442 Madison, described the closing of Treehouse Boutique as “heartbreaking,” but agreed with others that the development pushes her to avoid a similar fate. Her survival strategy includes staging events with other merchants in an effort to provide something fun to do while cross-promoting the businesses that are involved. Vance said she also makes a point of doing her own shopping at neighboring stores.
“I think we all think it’s going to be OK, we just need to hang on,” Vance said.
The owner of Treehouse Boutique, Jill Krygowski, could not be reached for comment on the closing of her store.