Closure of Dave’s Cosmic Subs bumps vacancies downtown storefronts, spaces to 11 percent

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It may be hard for some to think that businesses downtown aren’t always booming.

But in the past few years, businesses have come and gone from downtown, including Squeaker’s Vegetarian Cafe, Little Miss Cupcakes and most recently, Dave’s Cosmic Subs, which will close Saturday.

“Opening a small business is a crap shoot,” said Barbara Ruland, director of Downtown Bowling Green. “It’s risky, it’s hard work; people put their life savings and time into it so you want to see it succeed.”

Dave’s Cosmic Subs will join 15 other empty storefronts or spaces out of 140 total in the downtown area, leaving an 11 percent vacancy.

“We just didn’t have enough business to stay open,” said owner Tom Mather, who declined to comment further. David Lombardy, the franchise owner, declined to comment as well.

The next closest Dave’s is in Perrysburg, Ohio.

Business declined at the Bowling Green location in the summer and management hoped when fall semester started things would pick up again, said Catherine Cooper, assistant manager.

“After the semester began, we still didn’t get business,” Cooper said, who noted the store closed in summer 2012, before reopening that October under new management.

Cooper said it was unlikely the store would open again.

There are many factors that can cause a business to fail, such as prices and rent, said Dwayne Gremler, University marketing professor.

“Because businesses in downtown BG would have students as primary customers, who have limited resources and income, a key decision is price,” Gremler said. “A lower price makes you more competitive, but that cuts in profit margins … because rent must be high, so the room for competitive prices is very thin.”

Competition is also a factor, as Subway and Jimmy John’s also share the customer base, Gremler said.

Students may be more likely to go to the large franchises unless they already know of Dave’s, he said.

Cooper said the store’s location hurt them because by the time people reached them, they had eaten at Subway or Pita Pit.

However, locations in other college towns are holding up.

“You need businesses to order catering to boost business,” said Brian Buehner, owner of the Dave’s Cosmic Subs in Kent, Ohio near Kent State University. “You can’t just rely on the kids.”

Another problem some businesses might have is being too specialized, such as Squeaker’s or Little Miss Cupcakes, which both went out of business in 2012.

Some products may not have a wide appeal to students or residents, Gremler said.

“Bowling Green might not be large enough to support such a specialized store,” he said.

Though some specialized businesses don’t make it downtown, others survive.

Lori Hanway, owner of A Taste of Amish Deli, where Little Miss Cupcakes was previously located, considers herself specialized as well, but still appealing to a large customer base.

Both businesses moved to the location on East Wooster Street from the Woodland Mall.

Hanway isn’t intimidated by the fate of her predecessor.

“We have a lot of specialized products, not just one, so we can hit a lot of audiences,” Hanway said, who has been in business for more than seven years and moved downtown in March.

Though some businesses have failed, leaving vacancies, Hanway’s is one of a few new businesses in the downtown area along with Loonar Station, Blo and Melt Shoppe, which is currently being renovated.

“BG is a university town, fortunes rise and fall,“ Ruland said. “Small business owners need to have an understanding of who their customers are, how much they’re willing to pay. It’s going to be tough for a while before they make it.”

But the city doesn’t leave small businesses high and dry.

Both Downtown BG and the Bowling Green Community Development Foundation have ways to help owners.

Downtown BG promotes businesses through newsletters, social media and by hosting events to draw people to shop in the area, such as the farmers’ markets, Ruland said.

The development foundation can assist businesses in finding locations, direct them to development centers, assist in marketing plans or help them acquire a revolving loan fund, said Sue Clark, executive director.

The loan can fund 50 percent of a project, but needs to create one job per $20,000 borrowed, Clark said.

It can also be used for retaining jobs, but it can be tricky to get it approved by the government unless a business is about to collapse, Clark said.

In the past, the foundation has been able to service The Flower Basket, Serenity Spa and The Cookie Jar.

Clark said Dave’s Cosmic Subs did not reach out for help.

“Sometimes staying open can only dig yourself into a deeper hole financially,” she said.

Though Dave’s is closing, Cooper thinks it will be missed.

“We get people who come in and say, ‘Oh, I’m so upset; I love Dave’s.’ If you loved us, you would have come more when we were open,” she said. “People will miss it during the bar rush.”