Sitting at his dimly-lit bar on a rainy Tuesday morning, Bob Ciccone easily recalls a time almost 55 years ago when his café would be packed every weekend with customers dancing to the music of a local polka band. Today he’s just trying to ride out the roughest period of time his business has ever seen.
“You couldn’t believe the crowds we would have come in here unless you were actually here,” Ciccone said. “Now is the worst time by all means. I hope things will turn around. I think they will, but I wouldn’t want to bet a whole lot on it.”
Watch a related video about rising gas prices.
Video by Aaron Martin | TV2 News
Just up the street at Genor Auto Service, owner Wayne Wilson starts his day behind his desk anticipating what problems could arise with his equipment and whether or not his clients will be in on time. But after a spring season in which he only serviced a handful of cars for summer vacation season, down from his typical 25 to 30 vehicles, Wilson is dealing with a different issue.
“The economy overall, it’s very bad for us right now,” Wilson said. ” . With the price of gas having gone the way it’s gone, people have had to take the maintenance part of their budget and cut it down to put it in their gas tank. That has hurt this business dramatically.”
Those are just two owners, but decrease in profits, cutting expenses wherever they can and less advertising appears to be more common these days for local businesses in the city of Kent than it once was.
The Reserves Network Staffing, Coleman Travel and Battle Ground Coffee are all former businesses in Kent that have closed down recently. It’s not only smaller companies having trouble. Giant Eagle, East of Chicago Pizza, Meineke and Rite Aid have also shut down operations in Kent.
“In a tight economy, with operating margins under pressure, many small businesses have difficulty generating the resources to take advantage of new opportunities when they arise, or to reinvest in themselves,” said Bill Hoover, director of the Kent Area Chamber of Commerce.
However, all hope is not lost for local businesses in Kent. Stores may not be turning a large profit and people are not bunny hopping at Ciccone’s Café anymore, but it could be worse. They could be facing these times without the luxury of a large university right in their backyard.
Kent State guarantees customers for Kent businesses and has helped keep sales somewhat steady, softening a hard fall that many small businesses in similar sized cities in Ohio are having economically.
Jenny Arthur, owner of The Works Inc., a local gift shop, said that Kent State students account for 50 percent of her business. Wilson, a 3rd Ward councilman and car mechanic, agrees about the impact Kent State can have.
“Just having a stabilizing force at KSU, you know you’re going to have a certain amount of people coming into town all the time. That really does help stabilize our economy a lot in Kent,” he said.
Dan Smith, Kent’s economic development director, uses the university to recruit businesses to the city.
“Three-thousand employees and 20,000 plus students here create a market that other areas don’t have,” Smith said. “It’s been one of the positives for me when I’m out selling our communities.”
Even with risk of economic instability, many owners wouldn’t give up their businesses. By doing what they do, owners have the chance to decide their own fate instead of having to answer to a boss.
Ciccone liked being around and providing people with good service. Wilson hated working at dealership garages and has been able to run things his way for 29 years. Arthur was able to spend the past 23 years as her own boss while working alongside her mother. Smith knows private ownership is a linchpin in seeking businesses for Kent.
“Most people start their own businesses so they can be in charge of their own destiny,” Smith said. “I think it’s always an uphill battle to start a newly created venture and see it through to success. The entrepreneurial spirit’s alive in the city of Kent. There are people willing to take the risks, that are willing to work hard to make it successful.”
Contact public affairs reporter Tyler McIntosh at [email protected]