Strong Small Businesses Make Communities Better
Local business improvement district leaders say a thriving small business climate makes the whole community stronger, but it takes support from residents, the government and business owners to make things work.
Thriving businesses are one-third of a triumvirate of a vibrant community.
“You need good schools, a quality housing stock and a solid commercial area,” said Tim Ryan, president of Shorewood’s Business Improvement District. Ryan is invested in all three. He and his family live in Shorewood, his daughter goes to school in Shorewood and he is the president and owner of Harleys: The Store for Men on Oakland Avenue in Shorewood.
Small businesses line the commercial corridor that runs east and west along Capital Drive and north and south along Oakland Avenue, Ryan said.
“Unlike many small communities, our business district is spread out on two thoroughfares.”
Small businesses, like Harleys, are invested in a community the way national chains are not. They usually have a single location, ownership is very hands-on and customer service is very high. Small businesses also have a reciprocal relationship with the community in which they do business. They support small local events, like gallery nights or live music events. In turn the community supports small local business with foot traffic to the retail sites. Thriving small businesses reduce the tax burden for homeowners and buoys home values.
Ryan said it is more than local residents supporting the local economy. “It’s driving traffic to Shorewood allowing us to showcase our community as a place to live, work and shop.”
Jim Plaisted, the executive director of Wauwatosa BID, agreed. Those who know the village can find the shops, boutiques and restaurants with their eyes closed. But in order to draw people from the metropolitan area, better street signage and easy-to-find parking are needed. Wauwatosa has three main commercial areas; Plaisted’s BID area is specific to the Village of Wauwatosa.
“Having two angled parking spots on Harwood is fine if you only want to serve a customer or two,” he said.
The Village of Wauwatosa has a wonderful diversity of stores in its 126 business addresses, Plaisted said. “Our commercial district has great bones, but there are challenges.” The village has precious little quality space and developable land. “There are properties that are underdeveloped. We want mixed-use sites. We want to use space as effectively and efficiently as possible.”
Ryan said space is also a challenge in Shorewood. “Because our commercial corridor is limited, there is limited space, but we are always seeing interest. Shorewood’s BID works closely with the Community Development Authority in the city. “Our partnership with them is the engine that drives a healthy commercial environment.”
Both Ryan and Plaisted have seen businesses fail. “There is a three to five year window,” Ryan said. “If you last three years, you’ve got a good chance to succeed; if you last five years, you’ll probably make it.” Ryan should know -- Harleys has been in business since 1948.
“If you’re doing the right things, you’ll be in business a long time,” Plaisted said. “Longevity of success in business means not a lot of vacancies for new businesses coming in, but isn’t longevity of success a good thing?”