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Downtown Morgantown business owners: ‘String of business closures not new’

MORGANTOWN — “If you’re not on High Street, you might as well be on a different planet,” said Charles McEwuen, senior business owner of Tanner’s Alley Leather Design Studio.

In recent months, several businesses have closed in  downtown   Morgantown — including Daisy Moon Bakery, Dairy Queen and Nerd Rage.

McEwuen added that the downtown area is the “business incubator” for new businesses getting established, but sometimes the market for the business can be smaller, which forces it to close. He said it is  routine  to see businesses close and new ones open in the downtown area.

“It’s just the natural evolution that businesses have always been coming and going,” McEwuen said. “In downtown, we are a community and we have a certain look and environment that you don’t find in strictly retail areas, so we hope that’s a draw for businesses.”

McEwuen said  dealing with taxes, traffic and parking are just “part and parcel of the everyday in the retail world, not in downtown but everywhere in Morgantown.

“What a lot of business owners underestimate — getting started is not that hard — but keeping in business, that’s the challenge,” McEwuen said. “It’s constantly adapting to changes, whether that be local or economic changes that are taking place nationwide.”

With businesses closing, new ones must open, and Stephanie Swaim is excited to be a part of downtown Morgantown with her new business that will be opening mid-August. Swaim’s  Hoot and Howl, will be showcasing several local artists and she will have antiques in her store as well.

“I think it’s important to bring the community together when it comes to local artisans because you’re supporting each other and without that support, it’s hard,” Swaim said. “A couple of the artisans I am going to have in my store are just getting started and it’s something where they’re still dabbling and they’re still learning and growing and I think that’s going to be so cool to help them get out there and be in the public’s eye and grow their craft.”

Swaim looks forward to opening her business, but she also worries how successful it might be. With the range of emotions she has been feeling, Swaim looks forward to opening day and  is hoping to see her business flourish in the downtown area.

“I am worried just because it’s a new business, but just the support in the community that I’ve had behind me so far is overwhelming,” Swaim said. “I think this is the first time I’ve actually ever felt excitement and that terrified feeling at the same time. I might not be 100 percent ready but who is? If you wait until you think you’re 100 percent ready, it’s never going to happen.”

Rich Johnson, owner/operator of The Grind, said   rent downtown is “fairly competitively high” in the downtown area and said it is most likely more than in the rural areas outside of downtown.

“It’s never good to see businesses close — it’s not good for downtown, it’s not good for the area,” he said.

Johnson said what makes his business successful is one mantra: Worrying about himself.

“Unless I see a trend of businesses that I knew were doing the right thing, that’s the only thing that would make me wonder or worry,” Johnson said. “As a business owner I don’t think about what other people do, I just worry about what I do.”

Jillian Kelly, owner of Retrotique, said the most important part of bringing attention to the store is the window space.

“We try to keep our windows bright and crazy and we try to grab people’s attention. Usually people wonder ‘What is this store?’ And, they’ll come in to see what it is,” Kelly said.

With Kelly’s new space, she plans to showcase more local artists as well as have live performances at Retrotique, making it family-friendly. She said although there are hardships with owning a small business in downtown, it is worth it for her because she enjoys what she does.

“Small business taxes are crazy,” Kelly said. “You definitely have to have a store because you love doing it, not because you’re trying to make a living. I do this because I love it. I could work a job that I hate and make almost no money, or I could do this and love what I do every day and still feel like I’m giving back.”