By Mary O’KEEFE
Although the economy appears to
be turning the corner there are still many business owners that are feeling the pain of the last few years. Most of those cut the deepest by the economy are those mom and pop restaurants that weren’t big enough to receive any bail out funds and didn’t have a corporation to support them through the darkest times.
These are the businesses that are in small towns like La Crescenta that have been there for the community and are trying desperately to keep their dream alive.
“I am not going to lie … we are struggling,” said Brittany Russo, daughter-in-law to Frank and Carmela, owners of Dominicks Restaurant.
There had been rumors Dominicks was in financial trouble and may be closing. Brittany denied those rumors but admitted the restaurant business is not easy in these economic times.
“Of course there are problems,” she said of the restaurant. “But there is with everybody. [I don’t know] one person who isn’t hurting. … If you’re lucky you break even every month.”
Dominicks has been in business since 1969 and has seen many economic ups and downs.
“The restaurant has been in our family for a long time. We have thought about [closing] but we have decided to do everything we can to keep going,” Brittany said.
Franks Famous Deli is another restaurant that is doing everything they can to keep their head above water.
The first things to go in a down economy are the extras, like eating out.
“We used to do a lot of business in this store,” said Tracy Frey. She along with husband Roger opened the restaurant almost seven years ago.
Frey said that not only has the restaurant slowed but so has their catering business.
“We used to do a lot of catering to the medical offices around here but a lot of those have had to lay most of their employees off or have closed down,” she said.
Julia Rabago, executive director of the Crescenta Valley Chamber of Commerce, said that things have been bad but she does see indications that the economy may be turning upward.
One business that is surviving in this economy is Paper Rabbit on Honolulu Avenue in Montrose. This month the store is celebrating 30 years in business.
Owner Danielle Smith started working at Paper Rabbit in 1987. She then bought the business six years ago.
“I think it’s the personalizing,” she said of her businesses longevity. “And now we have our store online and it is doing well.”
The store personalizes everything from cups to jewelry boxes; they have birthday parties and are the place to go for paper and stickers. They don’t just sell but involve the community in their store through summer camps and lettering and doodling class.
“That class is always booked,” she said. Her March class is already full.
She also attributes the business’s success to a loyal community that now brings their kids to a place where they used to come.
“We are on our second generation,” she said.
Another business in the foothills that is taking a leap of faith in this economy is Shanto’s Bakery in La Crescenta. It has been open for a month but this specialized Lebanese pizza restaurant is seeing success.
“We have another store in Anaheim and have been looking for a location for five years,” said owner Shaunk Adessian.
When asked if he was concerned about opening a business now he said, “No, I am confident in what I am doing.”
Adessian said his restaurant is very specialized.
“There aren’t [many] Lebanese restaurants in the area but there is a sizable ethnic community.”
He added that his first month was much more successful than he originally had thought.
“The people that live up here are very supportive,” he said.
And that may be the key to survival for both young and old businesses. There has been a lot of talk about hyper-local. It seems to be the new catch phrase. It means to isolate in a neighborhood area or community.
In a study done by Civic Economics in October 2004, the economic impact of 10 Andersonville [Chicago, IL] businesses and their chain competitors was studied. What they found was “for every $100 in consumer spending with a local firm, $68 remained in the [local] economy. For every $100 in consumer spending with a chain firm $43 remained in the [local] economy.”
The study concluded that local merchants generated substantially greater economic impact than chain firms. Changes in consumer spending habits can generate substantial local economic impact.
The businesses like Franks Famous and Dominicks have for years not only been a place to meet and have a meal but also provided the owners a chance to give back to the community. Students from local schools get discounts or have fundraisers at the restaurant. When they are supported they give back directly to the community, which is supported by the Civic Economics study.
“I believe things are getting better,” Rabago said. “We really need to get [those businesses in trouble] over the hump to the next level.
“We at the Chamber always support local businesses. It is important to shop and eat locally for the businesses and for the community.”
Dominicks Italian Restaurant, 2948 Foothill Blvd. (818) 248-5680. www.dominicks-italian.com
Franks Famous Kitchen and Catering, 3315 N. Verdugo Road, (818) 249-6100. www.franksfamous.com
Paper Rabbit, 2269 Honolulu Ave., (818) 957-2848. www.paperrabbitmontrose.com
Shanto’s Bakery, 3747 Foothill Blvd., (818) 330-9835. www.shantobakery.com