Wednesday, July 25, 2012
With more people going online to shop, or not shopping at all due to the economy, retail businesses on Signal Mountain may become just memories in the not-so-distant future. Many mountain business owners report at least a 20 percent drop in sales within the past few years.
We talked to Signal Mountain business owners whose retail stores have been around a decade or more, to see what they are doing to keep their doors open and what the community can do to help.
“It’s tough to keep your head above water this day and age, especially in retail,” said Jeff Price, who opened J&S Shoes in 1994. “I’m having to work twice as hard to make less money.”
“What we’re really trying to promote is encouraging residents to shop local,” said Karie Holmes, Accents owner and president of the Mountain Business Association.
She said for every $50 spent in a local store over a month’s time, $34 goes back into the community.
“If we went down the mountain to Walmart then we wouldn’t see anything,” said Holmes, a Soddy-Daisy resident who opened Accents 13 years ago while living on Signal Mountain.
She encourages business owners to join MBA, which currently has around 70 member businesses.
“We hold each other’s hand to make everything profitable,” said Holmes. “It’s a great way to network.”
Price opened J&S Shoes 18 years ago when few other businesses existed on Signal Mountain.
“I thought it would be a convenient location for people to shop, so they wouldn’t have to drive 30 to 45 minutes off the mountain to pick up a little something,” he said.
The people who shopped at his store when it opened would bring in their children to buy shoes, said Price. Now that generation has grown up and have their own families, and he finds they are less loyal to the store than their parents.
“Unlike the generation before them, they have other options,” he said, such as the convenience of having items sent directly to their door with the touch of a screen.
He said he has heard many similar comments in conversations with other Signal Mountain business owners.
“We’re hoping Signal Mountain really does want businesses up here,” said Price. “The only thing that keeps our doors open is our community.”
Mountain Top Toys opened in 1992, and Signal Mountain resident Karen Dolmovich has been its owner for the past five years.
“I think it’s important to have businesses on Signal Mountain for our residents,” she said. “The challenge is we don’t have enough support from the community.”
She, along with Price, said the customer base has changed and needs to grow in order for businesses to survive on the mountain.
Dolmovich said MBA events and advertising have been helpful, as are in-store promotions. For example, since 2012 is Mountain Top’s 20th anniversary, the store is offering a 20 percent storewide discount on the 20th of each month this year.
“I think we’ve all had a decrease in sales that makes it very difficult to stay in business,” she said. “Without an increase in sales, we’re going to see more closing.”
One sector of retail that still seems to be doing well on Signal Mountain is the grocery business. Opened in 1983 in the old M & J grocery, Pruett’s Signal Mountain Market is 28 years old and the last Pruett’s of 14 stores formerly located in the Chattanooga area still standing, according to Martin Pruett.
“It’s always been good for us,” said Pruett of the Signal Mountain store, which experienced a decrease in sales just after the opening of the Walmart at the foot of the mountain, but business picked up to normal levels within six months. “We don’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon.”