When Karen Wallem opened her hand-made crafts store in Takoma Park, she had high hopes of owning a successful business. She turned an old, one-room store into an attractive two-room establishment.
But business didn't go the way she thought it would and now, two years later, she still doesn't foresee much progress.
Wallem's experience in small business is representative of those of other Takoma Park merchants. Although the national economy is showing signs of recovery, some small Takoma Park businesses don't reflect these trends.
"Business is absolutely horrible," said Wallem, owner of Fine Wares. "I would like to think the national economic indicators are true, but business certainly hasn't improved like the way I thought it would."
Other Takoma Park business people echo her concerns.
"Business is really down right now," said Sarup Dhallan, owner of Discount T.V., a television repair shop. "I hear on the news that the economy is coming up, but I don't see it. When people don't have much money, they will spend their money on food before they will fix their TV."
Food stores in Takoma Park also are showing signs of hard times. Ih Whan Lee opened the Takoma Grocery Market three months ago and says business isn't as good as he expected it to be.
"It's rough right now," Lee said. "We try the best we can to conserve. Business has not been going like the national indicators have."
In an effort to help area businesses, the Takoma Park city government has initiated economic development initiatives such as the facade easement program, under which the city will grant $2,000 or 20 percent of renovation costs to help businesses comply with a facade ordinance plan.
The plan requires all of the merchants in the city's Old Town section to renovate their storefronts according to a certain architectural plan. The Old Town section is bordered by Carroll and Eastern avenues on one side and Carroll and Laurel avenues on the other.
Paul Mok, economic development coordinator for Takoma Park, says the city believes this program and other revitalization projects currently being considered will improve the physical appearance of the area.
"Old Town is one area we are putting a lot of renovation into," Mok said. "We feel it is a worthy investment for both the public and private sectors. We feel a more improved appearance will help increase business."
"I hope these programs will help," said Lee, whose market is in Old Town. "But I don't know how much of a difference it will actually make."
But hard times in Takoma Park are not a universal experience. William Fishbein has owned and operated the Park Pharmacy for 20 years and says his business has always been good.
"Business has been on the rise ever since I've been here," Fishbein said, adding that the pharmacy business has certain built-in profits. "Drug prices are constantly inflated so our sales are always on the rise."
"I've always done well here," said Russell Flagg, owner of Flagg Upholstering. "Business has improved over last fall. We are getting more calls."
Alden Howard, owner of Takoma Picture Framers--which he says is the oldest picture framing business in suburban Maryland--said his business was down last Christmas, usually a busy time for him, but since January it has been picking up.
"In general, these past three months have been more of an upgrade than steady," Alden said. "I don't know why business slacked off in December. I'm just glad to see it's on the rise."
Both Flagg and Howard attribute their success to the longevity of their establishments. Flagg has operated his store for 10 years, and Takoma Picture Framers has been in business since 1945.
But Wallem reflected the views of many other Takoma Park merchants when she spoke of the day-to-day grind of operating a small business. "Each month when the bills come up you just hope you have enough money to pay them." she said.