Sole Sisters, a boutique on East Liberty Street, will be closing its doors at the end of the month — joining the growing list of businesses in the area that have ceased operating in the past few months, including Poshh, This and That, @Burger and Borders.
According to local business owners and Tim Faley, managing director of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies in the Ross School of Business, the rise in store closures in the area could be related to a variety of factors, including the closure of Borders in September and increased competition from upscale restaurants that have began to flourish in the area.
Tamar Fowler, owner of Sole Sisters, said the company experienced a decrease in sales over the course of the past six to eight months that has made continuing business operations difficult. Though she moved to East Liberty from Fourth Avenue in 2010 in hopes of increased foot traffic, ultimately she said the rent on East Liberty was too high.
“It’s heartbreaking, of course,” Fowler said. “You put so much time and effort into it … it does hurt a little, but it’s still good because I’ve tried … we made it three and a half years. I met some really great people; I love my customers, I really got to know each and every one of them. ”
Sole Sisters, which opened in March 2010, will hopefully be revived in the future as she explores methods of reviving her business and new ways to sell her shoes, handbags and jewelry, Fowler said.
Faley wrote in an e-mail interview that in order for businesses to remain open, they must accrue greater revenue than the costs paid to operate the store, noting that many of the
businesses that have been successful in the area are higher-end restaurants that serve liquor to supplement food profits.
“While restaurants and retail shops all operate on thin margins, the bottom line is that a higher-end restaurant with a liquor license — if it they can attract a consistent stream of customers — are advantaged and can support a higher rent than small retail shop or fast-food restaurant,” Faley said.
Faley added that downtown Ann Arbor development associates prefer a wide variety of storefronts, mixing retail, restaurants and other specialty shops. However, he said maintaining this diversity has been challenging as niche stores close due to low profits and high rent.
“It will be interesting to see how far the mix along the Liberty Street corridor will ultimately swing,” Faley said.
In order to decrease the expense of maintaining a storefront, Fowler plans to display her merchandise at private parties and events, as well as develop a website for online shopping.
“I feel good about it … closing these doors is just going to open up more,” Fowler said.
However, other storeowners on East Liberty said they don’t feel as optimistic about the future of their businesses. Angela Eddins, owner of Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, said she is concerned about the high rent and low foot traffic, attributing decreased sales to a number of factors, including the closing of Borders — a major draw for customers to the area.
“Borders’s closing has killed all of us,” Eddins said. “We’ve been open for years and we can see our sales from when Borders was open to when it closes, and it’s downhill.”
Eddins said many customers may also view the East Liberty strip as unappealing due to the high number of panhandlers, adding that very few customers visit her store.
“It’s dead now … It’s like a ghost town out there,” Eddins said.
Cecelia Kuzon, a sales associate at Allure Boutique, also said she has noticed decreased business in the area, particularly on weekdays, since the recent closure of nearby stores.
“I think it definitely has a lot to do with the economy and also … Poshh closed … so that’s affected our business a little bit, because not as many people even come down this road to shop,” Kuzon said. “I’d say business is struggling.”