KNAU and Arizona News
5:06 am
Thu February 19, 2009

Downtown businesses determined

Flagstaff, AZ –
Peace Surplus owner Steve Chatinski is very careful with his money.

CHATINSKI: I watch every penny that comes in and every penny that goes out.

He says he's always been that way since he and his dad opened the outdoor clothing and equipment store in the mid 70s. He says that's why his store is doing alright. Last month Peace was down 20 percent from the previous January but it was their second best January on record.

CHATINSKI: I'm not complaining not much (laughs) I didn't have a record January but I didn't have an awful January.

Chatinski, who rents skis and sells hats and gloves, says a good ski season makes all the difference. He even keeps a snow report in his financial spread sheets. While the last two seasons have been great he worries about next winter.

CHATINSKI: I don't think we're all the way thru this I think it will be another year or two before we get thru this. It's going to be like the early or mid 80s again a lot of empty storefronts.

Flagstaff's downtown hasn't always thrived. It was once mostly seedy bars that the police had to patrol heavily. It wasn't until the early nineties when downtown got a make over.

SFX: Gallery amby

The Artists Gallery was part of that revival.

OWEN: These are landscape watercolors mostly of the northern Arizona area I've been doing them for 10 years now. These are winter scenes of aspens

Marsha Owen shows me her work at the Artists Gallery. She says since she became a member of the artists' co-op three years ago she's seen a steady decline in sales. A few of the artists are leaving because they can no longer afford their space at the gallery.

OWEN: Generally there's less tourism less people on the sidewalks less people stopping in. Generally less money to spend I would assume on art it's not an essential thing that people need it's a luxury.

Going out to eat is also considered a luxury by many.

There are currently a handful of closed restaurants. Cuzco Peruvian Cuisine and the Frisco Street Grille have shut down. Cuzco is actually trying to sell its restaurant on Craig's List.

But a few restaurant owners like Steve Scully at Karma Sushi say their sales are actually up.

SCULLY: We have to do a little more advertising November, December, January try to get people in the door and remind them we're still here. It's three years now and we've got a formula. We're actually up about 10 percent this year compared to this time last year which is kind of an anomaly for downtown.

Scully has an optimistic view of downtown's future. The owners of Dara Thai are opening a new caf where Kathy's used to be. Scully says with a little sacrifice he and most of his fellow restaurant owners will get through this and even blow new life into downtown.

SFX: Zani amby

Up the street at Zani owner Dean Bonzani has been selling greeting cards, jewelry and high-end futons in his shop for more than 15 years. He's seen ups and downs in the economy before, but says this is unique and frightful.

BONZANI: It's been sketchy it's been trying it's been difficult and sometimes demoralizing. We had a $14 day which is better than a zero day. We spoke to somebody up the street that had a zero day and she said you were lucky to have $14. So we are pulling ourselves forward by our fingernails right now.

Bonzani says his shop feels more like a museum these days. People either don't have money or are afraid to spend it. And he says the ski season doesn't help his business in the slightest.

BONZANI: We're trying to be optimistic but it's hard in the middle of the day when you just hear wind whistling thru the cracks and tumbleweeds blow thru the shop.

He keeps his dark sense of humor. But while his overhead remains the same his sales are way down and that's a bad mix. He says it's tough to sell big ticket items like furniture. Bonzani has cut his staff and hours and closed one room of his store. Many customers ask if they're going to close their doors altogether and he assures them that's not his plan.

BONZANI: By God! I'm not going to take this laying down. We're on the ropes but we're not going to hit the mat. Failure is not an option we'll find something to do.

Lately Bonzani has had better luck as a musician. He's in survivor mode. Right now he says you have to do what you can and for him that means sitting behind a tip jar and playing his guitar.

For Arizona Public Radio I'm Laurel Morales in Flagstaff.