How Can Businesses Find Success in Port's Downtown?

With empty storefronts and recent business closures, area residents offer ideas about Port Washington's business sector. What is it that's keeping some business thriving in this city?

With the recent closing of Mobocracy in Port Washington's downtown and several other buildings that sit empty, the key to success in this city is open to debate once more.

Port Washington officials often speak of the emphasis on rebuilding Port's economy and creating a more thrivent downtown. Businesses come and go in Port, causing some to lose hope in the notion of ever having a bustling city center.

But others are confident in the business environment in Port, pointing to established businesses and citing a need for more proactive business owners.

"Port Washington has many successful businesses and some of them were right across the street from Mobocracy," Amy Gannon wrote on a Patch article about Mobocracy closing. "Those businesses choose to be involved in the community, market themselves and keep consistent hours. Port Washington is open for business and it's moving in the right direction."

Greg Huegerich agreed that effectively promoting your business is key to success in Port.

"It's definitely not a 'if you build it they will come' kind of environment," he wrote. "Marketing needs to be done as well as being open and accessible during festivals that generate foot traffic. I'm always surprised at the number of places that aren't open during parades and festivals. That being said, there are a number of niche business that do seem to thrive running a fairly limited schedule."

And to some, finding that niche is one of the important aspects of finding a solution to keeping business alive in Port.

"What it takes for a 'Mom & Pop' to survive is providing a quality niche product/service that we can't get at a big box," Robert B. wrote on Patch. "There are two perfect examples in town: Bernie's and Drew's. The quality of meat at Bernie's can't even come close to any of the groceries in the area ... (and) Drew's sells more variety of certain items and offers rentals."

Other businesses that closed recently include and Foxys Bar, which closed not because of financial reasons but because the owner was simply ready to move on.

On the flip side are businesses such as Pear & Simple and Baltica Tea, both businesses that have been opened for about two years or less and continue to serve the community.

How can business survive in Port?

Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

Rik Kluessendorf January 31, 2013 at 12:50 AM
Flowers can grow beautifully in a desert. Just because some businesses - especially those that are already established or work very hard for their success - thrive, doesn't mean that we have a friendly climate. Cities have some tools in their belts to make the climate friendly. That doesn't mean doing the work for places, nor handing them customers. But using the tools to build a friendly environment can actually benefit start-up businesses. Cities with a solid plan have a tool to bring in established businesses - those businesses like to know what will be happening in five, ten, fifteen years and how those changes will benefit the business. Established businesses bring in customers for the other businesses - imagine how poorly some of our downtown restaurants would do if we lost some of our bigger employers downtown - like PWSB, Ansay Insurance, or Franklin Energy. Imagine how many more people would be downtown if we could attract another major office instead of new apartments, condos, or empty retail space. And the city can help with this by marketing itself - giving itself an identity, a plan to match, and actually convincing places that they want to be here. Right now, our city has a track record that says that (a) we have no plan, (b) we react to circumstances, and (c) our actions are pretty arbitrary. That keeps the established places away, no matter the identity we present them. And that contributes to the desert environment, even if we have our flowers.
Mike Groll January 31, 2013 at 02:41 AM
Part of the traffic issue is the amount of time it took to widen the sidewalks a few years back. The construction of wider "artisan' walkways may be nice to look at, but IMO ruined an entire season worth of traffic, both motorized (shoppers, day visitors)and out of state visitors coming to spend a week or so in the marina (spending money downtown). That season killed a few businesses (some well established) downtown due to lack of overall traffic. I have not seen nearly as many visitors since that time, even during our somewhat erratic summers. That being said, enterpreneurs both young and old will not find a golden goose here easily. You will need enough liquidity to pay all of your buisiness expenses for a minimum of 2 years of worst case scenario, if you hope to establish yourself. It still shocks some of these new business owners that it may cost (rent, utilities, phone, premits and licenses, stock on hand, lines of credit, advertising, promotions and salaries) upwards of $200-500 a day just to unlock those doors. Be advised utilities can be way higher than standard residential service. You really have to hope your product, service, and quality can attract that many customers, when many live and die by the short season
Greg Huegerich January 31, 2013 at 04:03 PM
Right now ... Port seems to aspire to be what Cedarburg has become, with a lively mix of business, visitors, and residents. The big difference between the two: Drive through both towns at 8:30pm and one seems a lot more alive than the other. I think there's a tendancy to believe in enormous traffic in the area during the summer months, not just due to festivals, but also to the popularity of the marina. While there are more people in the area during that time, I sometimes wonder how much synergy there is between the marina visitors and the stores available in town? With there appearing to be an emphasis on getting more residents in the downtown area, the main thing that appears to be missing right now would be a small grocery store, upscale, but not as pricey for "staple" items as the gas station (people catching early fishing charters will likely still go there for bait, beer & sunscreen anyway). More local population could lead to longer hours for existing businesses. Bars in Port .... also an issue. Right now, there isn't much of a "destination". If you're there and thirsty, you might pop in somewhere, but there's no "pull" to say hey, let's go out in Port tonight. Having a few "destination locations" that peak at different times of the day along with increased local population ... that would seem to be the key to generating a better environment for all businesses.
Kathy February 15, 2013 at 10:48 PM
Port needs a stronger marketing campaign to draw business and traffic. People will come if they have a reasonable interest. Research shows that people age 35-54 will drive up to 50 miles to a destination to shop or enjoy a special event. The Maritime festival draws from; Michigan, MN, IL and Iowa. Problem: 2-3 day events. The hotel downtown books up to fast and $$. Hotel on other side of city, but then huge parking issues. When festivals are going on very little marketing from other businesses. The info booths should have a "What to do in Port" Brochure that has a map of local businesses. In 09 I pushed for one of those cartoon-ish downtown maps, it fell on deaf ears even before I could approach local businesses about sponsorship to leverage costs. Number one question asked by tourists: What happened to Smith Bros?" Number two question: Where can we eat or what kind of shops? I spent 3 days in an info booth and spoke with thousands, my statements are not generalized. Port needs to draw those little niche shops to fill the empty spaces - no question there. Port also needs to stop trying to be Cedarburg or Grafton. City planners need to work with businesses and the businesses (especially downtown) need to stop the bickering. I've worked with several cities in WI and Texas and have never heard such idiocy. It's the modern day Hatfields and MCCoys down there. It's sets an immediate bad taste for prospects. I could rant on more but out of allowed words. Port has potential.
Kathy February 15, 2013 at 11:08 PM
@Mike Groll Well stated. SBA.gov and score.org advise to plan on 3-5 years before seeing any profit. Translation: Feast or famine and living on limited means while working 90 hrs a week. :0)


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