Posted by: Dan Bergeson | May 15, 2011

Businesses Come and Businesses Go

Bookstore #7 since 1970

About ten years ago I started paying close attention to life on the street in Downtown Northfield MN. Over that decade, I’ve noticed that business entities ebb and flow like the tide. That is, it’s not uncommon for storefronts to empty and fill with a predictable regularity, often on the order of 5-10 a year.

Periodically, folks see these transitions and use them to challenge the conventional wisdom which says that Downtown Northfield is healthy and strong. Some years it seems as though the district is in decline because the transitions happen in a very narrow window of time and suddenly, 6-8 storefronts go dark simultaneously.  The reality seems to be that life on the street in Downtown Northfield isn’t easy, but  on average, is evolutionary and sustainable, given proper nurturing and well-maintained  infrastructure. I’ll show you what I mean.

Lockwood Building Makeover

A few weeks ago I decided to quantify this evolutionary story and see how many names I could actually remember from the past decade of business transitions. I think I did pretty well, but I know that I didn’t get them all. I also wish that I had been doing this all along so that I could add the year in which they were born, moved or perished. At any rate, as unscientific as this exercise was, a few things are clear. We’ve lost 62 businesses over the past ten years and gained 85 businesses.  That would be a net gain of 23 businesses over the period.  We’ve lost an average of 6.2 businesses a year and gained an average of 8.5 businesses a year.  That would be an annual gain of 2.3 businesses per year.

We miss you Brian

A couple of observations follow from these stats. For the overall local economy, the picture is even brighter, since some of the businesses that moved are still in operation. When I refer to a business as “lost”, I simply mean that the downtown district was reduced by one business. Also, this index doesn’t offer any insight into revenue status for the district so the growth I’m showing is in business units only. For example, in one case, a business closed and the physical space was subdivided into three smaller shops. I have no way of knowing if the cumulative revenue of the new businesses is greater or lesser than the revenue of the closed business. Given the fact that we’ve experienced two recessions during the decade, my guess is that overall volume may be lower, but the fact that the buildings continue to be occupied and the occupants are conducting business is a good indicator of relative economic health.

I don’t know if this little project will bring happiness to anyone, especially with the heavy property tax burden that continues to be a major problem for owners of historic buildings, but that’s fodder for another post. Right now, suffice it to say that I believe the downtown district has a viable, healthy economy and has adapted well to large market fluctuations. The next big challenge it faces is the possible loss of the Bridge Square Post Office, a traffic magnet. More on that later.

POSTSCRIPT 5/16/11

This appears to be a topic on which I expend a fair amount of mental energy. Cruising back through time, I found that I posted on the same theme about four years ago: http://bit.ly/mEw8XW.

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