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Despite economy’s rough waters, most local businesses are staying afloat

October 27, 2008

Local businesses talk about how they are affected by the slow economy

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

DASSEL-COKATO, MN - With the state of the economy making headlines almost daily, some local businesses are feeling a pinch, while others aren’t seeing much of an effect at all.

For instance, Larry Wasmund, manager of The Marketplace in Cokato, hasn’t seen a drastic change in business though he has seen some changes in shopping habits.

“People are shopping more conservatively,” Wasmund said.

For example, instead of buying steaks and other meats, customers are sticking with hamburger.

Though gas prices are lower now than they have been, the cost of gas may be another reason Wasmund is seeing business maintained.

“With higher gas prices, people are staying closer to home. We feel fortunate about that,” he said.

Owner and buyer for The Marketplace, Marv Marohn is working a little harder to find better deals to keep grocery prices down, Wasmund said.

It’s the premium meats, dairy products, and produce that are commonly higher-priced. Wasmund says perishable food items that are trucked in are more affected by fuel surcharges.

“Basically, I’m surprised we haven’t been affected more, and things have stayed pretty consistent,” he said.

Gary Stanley, owner of Gary’s Family Foods in Dassel, is seeing things differently and said running a small business has gotten a lot harder since the first of the year.

Stanley has had the business for sale for about two years now, but with today’s numbers, he wouldn’t feel good selling it to someone.

“I would never sell it unless I thought they would make a living and pay for the store,” Stanley said.

Since the beginning of the year, Stanley has seen his customer count go down and figures he loses about $2,000 a week in sales.

He says more people are shopping outside of town, especially at big box stores like Wal-Mart.

“It’s hard for a small-town grocer to compete with a Wal-Mart Superstore,” he said.

Stores like Wal-Mart have more buying power and are able to keep prices lower, Stanley explained.

Dassel’s only grocery store isn’t going under, “It’s not that way yet. I’m still making a profit,” Stanley said.

He is concerned for the city of Dassel though, if it’s people continue shopping out of town.

Stanley doesn’t want the city to end up like Howard Lake, which used to have its own grocery store.

What also doesn’t help businesses like Stanley’s are the higher costs of utilities and taxes.

Chuck Ortquist, owner of Chuck’s Floral in Cokato, calls utilities and taxes the silent cancer that keeps eating away at his bottom line.

As far as business being down, “It’s not doom-and-gloom,” Ortquist said.

“I think everyone’s concerned,” he said, but he remains optimistic, especially for the upcoming holiday season.

“People are still going to spend,” he said.

Ortquist has noticed that a vast majority of people who support his business instead of heading to the big-box stores.

“That’s what keeps the doors open,” he said.

Business for Hojies Grill and Smokehouse in Dassel depends largely on out-of-towners, which gas prices have had an impact on, according to Craig Hagen, owner of Hojies.

Hagen estimates sales are down 30 to 40 percent, but is hoping that, with lower gas prices now, customers will start coming back.

To help attract customers and inform them of daily specials, Hojies has launched a web site, www.hojies.com.

On it, customers can see what the daily specials are, a full menu, and print out coupons to use on their next visit.

Kurt Dahlin, owner of Dahlin’s Home and Farm in Cokato, said it’s hard to say if the economy has affected his business because of the other circumstances his hardware store has encountered.

For example, a week after the hardware store moved to its new location along the highway in March of 2007, the store sustained a fire. With insurance money taking longer than expected, it was harder for Dahlin to catch back up.

Then, that summer, Hansen Hardware in Dassel closed, sending business their way.

Because sales have been higher than Dahlin projected; double in fact, it’s been harder for him to keep up with inventory.

“It’s going to be a slow process,” Dahlin said about building and establishing an inventory.

Dahlin is suspecting that with winter around the corner, construction jobs will be hibernating, and that will trickle down to him.

Otherwise, Dahlin hasn’t noticed a substantial difference.


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