Businesses thrive despite struggling economy12/18/08

Dec. 18, 2008

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Every day, it seems, a new report is released on the economic slowdown. Unemployment numbers are at their highest in years, the country has been in a recession for 12 months and, most recently, consumer prices have dropped by a record 1.7 percent in the past year. With all the ups and downs of the stock market and news about bailouts, it would make sense if local businesses were taking the brunt of diminished consumer spending.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Kimberly Wilkinson of South Burlington shops at Plato’s Closet on Tuesday afternoon. Despite the current recession, Plato’s Closet, located in the Taft Corners Shopping Center, reports having one of its best years.

But that’s not necessarily the case in Williston, where some business owners say restaurants remain busy and shoppers have been coming out full force for the holiday shopping season. Some stores report having their best business in years, and new businesses are moving in.

At Plato’s Closet in the Taft Corners Shopping Center, manager Erin Parker said 2008 has been a busy year for the store.

“This is one of our best years,” Parker said.

Plato’s Closet, a national franchise store, buys and sells “gently used” brand name clothing, according to the company’s Web site. Prices are generally much lower than what can be found in department stores, the site adds.

Parker said there have been more people coming to the store to sell older clothes. Plato’s Closet has remained busy even during its slower season, which happens to be December.

Also in the Taft Corners Shopping Center, Amarah’s Chocolate Company is doing good business, according to owner Angela Emerson. She credits the store’s success to planning ahead for the economic downturn.

“We listened carefully to our customers and made some adjustments,” Emerson said, adding the confectionary store has not raised prices in recent months and has even lowered prices on some goods.

Emerson said her customers are “feeling the pinch,” but have still been stopping to buy chocolate and candy for the holidays. She said she’s confident Valentine’s Day will also be successful.

Restaurants have kept busy in spite of the economy, with Texas Roadhouse opening its doors on Monday (see sidebar).

Mexicali Grill and Cantina in Maple Tree Place continues to draw customers, and manager Quinten Forkas doesn’t see that changing into the New Year. Forkas said there are still long waits on the restaurant’s busy nights of Thursdays through Saturdays. The only noticeable difference this year is a drop-off in company cocktail parties.

“We definitely had more of those at this time last year,” Forkas said.

He also believes Mexicali’s location in a major shopping center and adjacent to the Majestic 10 movie theater helps business, as well.

“The movie theater is a good neighbor to have,” Forkas said.

At the Old Brick Café in Williston Village, owner Melissa Blanchard said the summer and early fall were very busy, although business has quieted in recent months. Blanchard admits it hasn’t been easy to open a new restaurant in a recession, but she and her staff have been working hard to make it successful. She cites the good number of repeat customers that come in every week.

“We’re doing everything we can to make it work,” Blanchard said. “The hope is that things will get better.”

The café is also expanding its hours to include dinners on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. The idea is to attract locals as well as customers from outside Williston.

Another new business in town, Lumber Liquidators on Harvest Lane, has been booming despite the recession, according to manager Ronald Vincent. He said business has been “excellent” since October.

“The economy hasn’t slowed down for us,” Vincent said. “I can’t see how it’s affecting anyone I know of. People are still spending the way they normally would.”

Instead of buying a new house, people are buying materials to fix up the one they live in, Vincent said. Spending the money now for renovations will pay off once housing prices go back up, Vincent added.

Emerson is in agreement with Vincent that the economy is not as bad as what people are being led to believe. She said the national media is blowing the economic problems out of proportion, at least for Vermont.

“They’re inflating it,” Emerson said. “The less they talk about it, the better.”

But whether or not the recession is as bad as feared, Williston is still a good town to do business in, Emerson said.

“We appreciate all our customers’ support,” Emerson said.