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Circumstances or slump behind Dixon closures?

City, Main Street officials not worried by recent vacancies

DIXON – Four downtown businesses are closing up shop.

Three others already have closed: Marceile's Consignment & Resale, Fern's Cafe, and Twice As Nice.

Dixon Main Street Executive Director Josh Albrecht has been asked by concerned residents, Why is Dixon losing all these downtown businesses?

The answer: a matter of circumstances, Albrecht said.

A couple of downtown business owners expressed concerns about the spate of closures, too, but most owners and city officials say the central business district remains healthy.

Still, Mayor Jim Burke and Albrecht admit there is a need for the city and Main Street to work together to create a program to help start-up businesses, and to continue pushing the economic incentives that are available.

Only one closure, Marceile's, is known to be for economic reasons. The others are personal decisions, Albrecht said.

"A business doesn't always close because it isn't doing enough business," he said. "All the public and fellow businesses see is that it's going out of business. They don't see the circumstances behind it."

Longtime businesses Butcher Block Antiques, 420 W. First St., and Wermer's Decorating Center, 313 W. First St., are closing soon because their owners are retiring.

Fern's Cafe, 314 W. First St., closed for many factors, but mainly because the building needed updates, said Rod Garman, Fern's business operator.

The cafe, which has been open since at least 1981, had its share of regulars.

Marceile's, 101 S. Peoria Ave., on the other hand, shut its doors at the end of this past month because of a lack of business, owner Marceile Pritchard said.

"I couldn't pay the rent anymore," she explained.

Love Your Scrubs, 107 S. Hennepin Ave., did not see business come in the way owner Bobi Majeski had hoped, so the store is moving back to Sterling.

Then there is Wedding Whims, 113 S. Hennepin Ave., which is going out of business "with a smile and no regrets."

Despite a busy summer, owner Stacy Blackbourn said she is closing Oct. 31 to spend more time with her family.

The reason is unknown why Twice as Nice, 113 E. First St., No. 110, went out of business. The owners could not be reached.

Thomas McClain, owner of the Paper Escape, 205 W. First St., said the downtown has had peaks and valleys since he opened his comic book store 32 years ago.

Despite events such as Petunia Festival, Scarecrow Festival and Christmas Walk, which bring thousands of visitors downtown, McClain said he has noticed a decrease in foot traffic recently.

His biggest advantage, he said, is that he owns his building.

"If I didn't own, I'd be out of business," he said. "It can be a challenge to stay on top of rent each month."

Margie Wildman, owner of Baker Street, 111 W. First St., rents her building, but says business is good and she has no complaints.

"The downtown is amazing," said Wildman, who sells baked goods and coffee. "We have an unbelievable Main Street organization, and all the best restaurants are downtown to bring people in."

Larry Dunphy, owner of Books on First, 202 W. First St., said business at his bookstore and coffee shop has been down a little this summer from previous years, but bringing the Petunia Festival to the Riverfront was a boost.

Other owners agreed.

"The Riverfront brings a lot of people into town, and especially moving Petunia Fest [from Page Park]," said Pam Diehl, manager at J&J Household Furnishings, 223 W. First St., a secondhand store. "We're really happy about it, because it causes people from out of town and out of state to stop, and a lot of them compliment our downtown."

One business owner, who asked not to be named in this article, said she is concerned that city blocks east of Peoria Avenue and west of Galena Avenue are being neglected by Main Street and city officials. She remained anonymous, she said, to avoid harming the reputation of her business.

Four of the closures listed above are east of Peoria Avenue.

In total, the city downtown will have about a 10 percent vacancy, including the former US Bank building, 98 S. Galena Ave., former Snow White Bakery, 214 W. First St., and former Spurgeon's Bay, 215 W. First St.

Albrecht said prospective business owners have asked about a number of vacant buildings, but it's about finding the right fit for each business.

"There's a lot going on behind the scenes that people don't see," the Main Street director said. "For the businesses closing, we have another that's looking to open up."

Burke said he would like to see a business loan program with $30,000 to $40,000 established by investors in the city. Such micro loans, often too small for banks to take on, would be for entrepreneurs who are just starting out.

Also, Burke is working to bring a program to the city to start an entrepreneur program with workshops and mentoring programs.

Since the city received historic recognition, Albrecht said, there are tax credits and grants available for almost any type of work to downtown buildings.

Lunch ’n' Learns are scheduled each month to allow business owners to network and hear about certain topics.

Additionally, the city has a low-interest loan program for any city business that wants to fix up its facade; about 20 businesses have already taken advantage.

"I think we're fortunate to have the setup we have," Burke said. "We have a hospital, courthouse, city buildings, senior center, all downtown, plus a high school across the river, not to mention the Riverfront.

"I don't think you'll ever see a downtown with 100 percent occupancy, especially after emerging from a long recession, but we have a lot of good things here we can build on, and we think we have what we need to be successful."

Going, going ...

• These downtown Dixon businesses have closed this summer:

Fern's Cafe, 314 W. First St.

Twice is Nice, 113 E. First St., No. 113

• These businesses plan to close this summer:

Marceile's Consignment & Resale, 101 S. Peoria Ave.

Butcher Block Antiques, 420 W. First St.

Wermer's Decorating Center, 313 W. First St.

Wedding Whims, 113 S. Hennepin Ave.

Love Your Scrubs, 107 S. Hennepin Ave.

• This business has moved from downtown:

U.S. Bank, 98 S. Galena Ave.

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