Who is Next?

2022 June 5, Sunday
Don Collins

It’s a trick question. Truth is, some business is next. You might know which one. Or, think you know. But, it is a trick question.

First, the good news: No matter how bad the economy gets, no matter how many businesses in Blair close, and no matter what you feel like about whoever is in the White House, things will get better at some point.

Now, the bad news: No matter how bad the economy gets, no matter how many businesses in Blair close, and no matter what you feel like about whoever is in the White House, things might not get better soon enough for you to see it or live through the rebound.

Blair, Nebraska, is in a state of serious flux. Not sure if you noticed but there are many closings on Main Street. And, write this down: More on the way.

Fernando’s, Rivers, and Blair Nutrition are all closed now. That’s a long-term, medium-term, and fairly-new business with doors closed. All in the last 6 months.

Wait, but you say, “What about Hoshi Palate?” Well, what set them apart – DRAMATICALLY – and was a HUGE winner was their Sushi. Which, they don’t offer now. My guess is supply issues, or maybe the Sushi Chef is no longer there. Whatever the reason, what made Hoshi Palate an absolutely-unique and must-try eatery is no longer on the menu.

Wait, but you say, “What about the CBD shop? What about the Vape store(s)?” Those are businesses which – regardless of your opinion on what they sell – are untested commodities in Blair. Brand new businesses, that opened within mere feet of each other, selling ostensibly similar items, in a town the size of Blair, face an enormous uphill battle.

As a business-owner I had some businesses succeed marvelously. Some fail spectacularly. It’s more art than science to maintain a profitable business.

But, timing and location are – maybe – most important. A business that would have been a dud ten years ago (local delivery of small goods or food), seems obvious today. So, you can fool yourself into the belief your results are because of “bad luck,” or you’re a “genius.”

Neither is, most-likely, true.

So, where does Blair go from here? Since we live in the moment, and the moment seems dark, it’s easy to say downtown specifically, and Blair business generally, will be reduced to national chains, trendy “fad” businesses with no long-term business model, or thrift stores propped up by donations, grants, and the goodwill (no pun intended) of local residents who can’t sell their sweaters at garage sales or ebay.

However, I believe things move forward in ways we may not anticipate or expect. And, maybe, recent closings (and ones near to their end) are a product of a business cycle we may not understand. One that may end as fast as it began.

It would be easy – yet, unproductive and cruel – to name other businesses which are probably on the verge of closing. You can “do the math”. Where you see no customers, no cars, and yet doors that remain open, you know there is a struggle afoot. You know it can’t continue.

With gas prices at $4.50 a gallon in Blair, and most people on a drive to Omaha for employment, and everything at grocery stores up in real dollars – and portion sizes down – inflation eats away at us all like most of you can’t ever remember.

If you think it’s tough to find extra money to spend at a Blair business, try to imagine how hard it would be to FUND a local business, and pay employees MORE AND MORE MONEY, in an environment where there are forces making it easier for them to demand more or stay home.

The wicked mistress we call inflation is hitting Blair businesses hard – from the inside (rising wage demands and skyrocketing supply costs), AND from outside (customers who don’t want to spend more money today for what was less yesterday.)

Blair businesses are being hit like the 2014 hail storm we endured. The difference is, with that hail storm you could see on radar the leading and trailing edges. For Blair business, the front edge of the storm came out of nowhere, while the end of the deluge escapes even high-level economists.

Plus, there are folks who open Blair businesses and are under-capitalized from the start. Or, don’t know what they’re doing. Those are always problems, but in the current environment, what might have been the first chapter in a book called, “What I Learned at the Start of My Finally-Successful Blair Business,” in THIS economy could be read as chapter one in a two-chapter book titled, “I Opened a Business in Blair I Had to Close in Less Than a Year.”

It’s hard understand how all this can “work out.” But I submit that you can, as a Blair citizen, do as Mother Teresa said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”

I encourage you to do something good. Head to any local business you want to see remain in Blair. Spend money. Tell them you appreciate them. Do this at least once a week.

There may be no way to stop the inevitable. And, as my mom said when I was young, “Life isn’t always fair.” In business, it’s always a battle to overcome the unfairness of things you did not (or could not) expect.

It’s also true what I told my mom – with a knee-jerk comment that seems wise given Blair’s current situation: “Life may not always be fair, but we should try to make it fair when we can.”

This article’s title is a question of inevitability. Someone’s businesses close. Others open. I’m not ready to read more into current Blair closings than the ebb and flow of circumstances we don’t fully understand. What I plan to do is support who is here, honor those who left, and hope for a better tomorrow.