Madison Street business owners worry empty storefronts drive customers away from the working stores
Tourists peering through storefront windows along Madison Street is a common sight in downtown Port Clinton.
But often the only thing looking back are their reflections.
Port Clinton's downtown is riddled with 18 empty storefronts, five of which are along Madison Street, downtown's main thoroughfare.
Donna Schulte, owner of Harbor Light Gifts, 119 Madison St., makes her customers a priority, but said the empty storefronts have kept tourists away.
"People who have come in this year have definitely commented on the lack of stores," Schulte said. "Basically, the tourism is down. Economy in general is totally down. It's not like it used to be."
Mary Snyder has sold flowers and gifts out of Mary's Blossom Shoppe, 125 Madison St., for 30 years along the city's main drag.
"Of course it's a concern. You worry about a lot of things in terms of the local economy and the impact of gas prices on tourists," Snyder said. "There's a lot of stuff we don't have here anymore."
Laura Schlacter, program manager for Main Street Port Clinton, a non-profit organization focused on revitalizing downtown, realizes business owners have a right to be concerned.
"I believe downtown is like a comb and each business is a prong," Schlacter said. "When we're missing one of the prongs in the comb, we're missing the whole dynamic of a downtown. Those vacancies hinder people from continuing to more shops further downtown."
Rona Rothschild is part owner of Split Winds Gallery, 104 W. Perry St., one of 174 businesses in the downtown area.
Though more businesses would bring more competition, Rothschild said that's exactly what the downtown needs.
"The more businesses, the more stimulation for the community," Rothschild said.
"The more businesses that are here -- whether they complement or compete against each other -- it creates more interest for people who live here year-round and for people who visit."
Mayor Tom Brown said a marina district project could help stimulate downtown growth.
The city council is on the verge of beginning negotiations with Puller Group, an Indianapolis-based developer for the project. Puller Group has plans to build a hotel, conference center and water park near Water Works Park.
"With the revitalization of Water Works Park, it will be an incubator for businesses downtown," Brown said. "Our dream is to fill those businesses downtown."
Brown's vision of downtown includes a good mix of restaurants and retail stores. The 19-square-block downtown has 20 retail stores and 17 restaurants. A majority of the downtown includes several service-oriented businesses.
Despite several empty store fronts, the downtown still has new blood pumping through it. Balloons, Gifts and More, Solution's and Second Street Diner have all moved into the downtown area in the last four months.
"If you look at Port Clinton, we have such a jewel here," Schlacter said. "We don't have to re-create a downtown. We have a downtown. We just need people to realize what we have and how wonderful it truly is."
Schlacter already has plans to spur interest in the development of downtown. On Aug. 10, Main Street Port Clinton is sponsoring an art showcase to bring in local artists and musicians and show residents, visitors and developers the "opportunities" available downtown.
Snyder knows it can be difficult to do business in what some call a tourist town, where a majority of business is done in the summer. But she would not want to have her business elsewhere.
"I wouldn't go anywhere else or be anywhere else," Snyder said. "I'm very fortunate, but I work hard. You have to adapt and change. You have to make that commitment and sometimes that's hard for people to understand in a small business."