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How's business?

Fifty local business owners tell how they're really doing in these tough economic times



For months now, the global financial meltdown has wreaked havoc on Charlotte's economic landscape, wiping out businesses left and right with no remorse.

Strangely, though, we as consumers don't often see the death of a beloved business coming; we generally don't know how bad it is for our favorite retail shops, eateries, car dealerships and the like until their doors finally close forever.

That being the case, we here at Creative Loafing decided to go out and visit 50 locally owned Charlotte-area businesses -- from your favorite fried chicken coop to that '80s club you like to frequent -- to find out how business is really doing in these tough economic times.

Read on to find out what places are struggling to hold on, what spots are doing surprisingly well, and who's pretty much middle of the road -- all straight from the owners' mouths.

Vespa of Charlotte, a scooter retailer

Stephen Speer: We have seen an uptick in business in the last 30 days. Our business has changed; we're doing a considerable amount more service business than ever before. New scooter sales are down from last year, but are equal to 2007. Last year we had a banner year because of the price of gasoline. We sold every scooter we could get our hands on. People are more conservative now. One of our challenges is financing. About nine out of 10 applications are denied. But we are seeing an uptick in business. People's attitudes are becoming better. The first part of this year, probably the first three to four months, people's attitudes were, "stay at home, don't enjoy yourself." Now we're seeing people sort of breaking out, getting out, starting to spend some money.

128 W Worthington Ave.


The Pink Hanger, a women's designer clothing boutique

Whitney Avishar: This summer we are really seeing increased momentum in sales compared to last year. Our customers are taking more vacations, have more events to attend, and are genuinely more interested in the upcoming fashion trends than in the past year. Plus, our customers are truly embracing the "shop local" concept; they want to support local businesses to help enhance the cultural vibe in the Queen City.

2935 Providence Road, Suite 103


Price's Chicken Coop, a fried chicken takeout eatery

Steven Price: We're maintaining. We're definitely more fortunate than some.

1614 Camden Road


Niche, a clothing and sneaker boutique

Bobby Webster: I guess my general answer when everyone asks me this is, "It's not great, but it could be worse -- and I'm still here!" Honestly though, my holiday season last November and December was by far the worst I've had since I've been in business. People really weren't shopping. We literally had one week of good business in December.

On a more optimistic tip though, it is getting better. My most recent quarter, (April 1-June 30) this year was far better than '08. The market is bad, but the key is to adjust your strategy. For this past quarter, I had better sales but I also had cut my orders from the previous year, so that was also a plus.

1510 Camden Road


Nikki's Tattoo Studio, a full-service tattoo studio

Nikki Thompson: We are doing really well. Business doesn't seem any less than previous years. Maybe better.

9010-B Monroe Road


Beadlush, a bead retail shop

Lydia Stern: Business actually was going pretty well, I have to say, through the spring. It has slowed down considerably through the month of July, but we're hanging in there and we're very optimistic that things are going to pick up. I think a lot of people are on vacation right now. Having a retail business in the current economic environment is a bit of a challenge and owners need to be more creative with their businesses to get new customers in the door and retain existing ones. I can't stress enough how important it is to support those small local businesses that you would miss if they were gone.

1217 The Plaza


Maria's Grill of Derita, a family-owned diner

Angelo Koutsoupias: We are a small family business here. It's my mother, myself, my brothers. We all work here. What we're finding now is that people don't have the expendable cash that they used to. We still have a fairly good clientele because people are now looking more for quality. When they go out, they want to go somewhere where they feel comfortable, kind of like Cheers -- everybody knows your name type of thing. And I think they find that here. Being a small family business, we're finding that we're getting squeezed even harder now from the chains -- the Applebee's, the Cheddar's -- they have deeper pockets. So what sets us apart is that we have the quality. I'm not saying that they don't have it, but we have a more individual type service; we're able to cater to our customers' needs and give that value. People don't go out to eat that often nowadays. What we've done is made it a treat for people to go out to eat now. And when they do go out to eat, they want to feel like they got the whole experience -- versus going out, eating something for $9.99, and being done with it.