by Abby Brill
It’s been a rollercoaster of a year, and with Covid shutdowns and the subsequent health and safety restrictions, we decided to check in with our local businesses and give you a picture of how they are faring.
I did a walking tour downtown and spoke with a number of business owners. Depending on the type of business, the results are quite varied.
Some businesses have been especially creative in staying afloat. I’m a member of the Arts Prescott Gallery on Whiskey Row, and I can report that apart from the closure in the spring, sales have been solid and we’ve gained some new members. Art sales during the pandemic have remained pretty good for two reasons; people aren’t traveling much, and they are using that extra travel money to treat themselves to beautiful things they can enjoy at home.
Two doors down from the gallery is Clothes Hound, a boutique clothing store that’s been in that spot on the Row for ten years. Owner Candy Hull, a Prescott native, speaks very warmly of her customers and the business environment in Prescott. She says the hardest thing she’s had to deal with lately is that there is no common consensus on masks. Hers is a very small space, but she gets a lot of people wandering in and out, and wants to keep everyone safe.
“I love my customers and I would never want to tell anyone not to come in, but unfortunately I’ve had to do that because I don’t want to be part of continuing the spread of Covid.” That said, Clothes Hound has done well through the pandemic so far. Many tourists have come up to escape the heat down south, and they all visit the Row.
Next I popped into the Hike Shack, owned by three women, including Raigan Fundalewicz, who said that the shutdown was hard on their business and they worried about how their employees would manage without working in the shop. A friend, JR Lee, made some Arizona signs for the shop to sell and give the proceeds to the employees, a deeply moving and generous gesture. Regardless of how much the sales really helped, this generosity lifted the spirits of all those connected with the Hike Shack.
Jeff Ogg, owner of Ogg’s Hogan on Cortez Street, reports that sales are down considerably, largely because Covid is preventing travel between countries and much of his sales are to European and Asian visitors. The longtime Prescott business offers a beautiful selection of Native American jewelry, rugs and pottery, as well as lots of fun western paraphernalia. Jeff is well established with collectors, and so he is staying afloat so far. He just returned from a trip to New Mexico and brought back a lot of native jewelry and some chili ristras, perfect for holiday decorations and gifts.
Traci Zitzer, owner of Modern Day Forager on Gurley Street in the Elks Building, is so positive about the downtown business environment that she's opening a second store called Scout Home a few doors down. She’s both a chef and a florist, and her shop carries beautiful baked goods and a lovely selection of useful and unique items for the home. While the spring shutdown was as tough on her business as on any other, Traci loves that people are getting out and exploring more than before, since they’re not traveling so much. She says people wander in from the street, exclaiming, “Wow, I never knew this was here!” Most are nesting and staying more local, but still need to get out sometimes. Prescott’s centralized downtown area is perfect for roaming about.
Restaurants and bars are suffering considerably, because in addition to having had to close down, some twice, they are restricted to allowing only half occupancy to maintaining social distancing. Some establishments have built “parklets,” enclosed areas using street parking space for outdoor seating. These will remain until indoor seating capacity can come back to 100%. Half occupancy is really tough if your business is small and you don’t have space available to put up a parklet. Sheri Shaw, owner of the Back Alley Wine Bar on Whiskey Row Alley, says her business has suffered a lot. The limited occupancy regulation will remain in place for all bars, restaurants and gyms until the Arizona Department of Health Services deems the risk low enough to return to full capacity. (See AZDHS.gov or CDC.gov for more.)
At half capacity the Back Alley Wine Bar can now only serve 28 customers at a time, which makes it hard to make ends meet. Sheri has had to let staff go and is working six days a week at the bar. Despite the extreme hardship Covid has placed on her business, she is very grateful to have many loyal regular customers. She pointed out how nice it is to have a business in Prescott. When a venue like this in a strip mall in Phoenix is struggling, the likelihood that it will fail is so much greater, because it doesn’t always have a supportive local community.
In spite of the hardships created by Covid, there are new business initiatives and some exciting developments to look forward to. As the Hilton hotel on Montezuma St. is being finished, there are plans for sprucing up the area behind it, where the community garden used to be. There are plans for a splash pad for children to enjoy, and over a mile of walking trails through Granite Creek Park. Sam Hill Warehouse, now owned by the Hilton, will be a conference center conveniently next to these trails. Plans are also in place to beautify the path along Granite Creek, which runs right through downtown Prescott and deserves some TLC.
One new business to check out is Founding Fathers, in the old warehouse on North Granite St. Owners Grant Quezada and Jesse Burke have created a unique community hub, with a coffee shop, a gym, a taproom and speakeasy, all under one roof. It opened in October despite Covid restrictions, and will be beautifully positioned there on the creek when the creek and park improvements are complete. The area will become part of the downtown Entertainment District.
Two other new business initiatives are planned by local restaurateur Skyler Reeves, owner of several successful local restaurants here in Prescott. La Planchada, a taqueria and tequila bar, will occupy the
former Genovese’s, and is scheduled to open soon. The County Seat will be not only a restaurant serving healthy, hearty food, but will also have a full coffee bar and a grab-and-go area where patrons can get sandwiches and salads ready-made. With 6,500 square feet of space, it will include a wraparound bar and lounge seating. This multipurpose gathering place will be on the top floor of the historic Burmister building on Gurley Street across from the courthouse, and will open sometime in the new year.
We’ve lost some businesses since Covid arrived (though not necessarily because of it), namely John’s Chophouse, The Shoe Box, Nectar, Random Art, and Batterman’s, but the overall impression I got in visiting with the owners of many businesses is cautious optimism.
Traci of Modern Day Forager sees the Prescott business community as hugely supportive of one another rather than competitive. “The cool thing is that we are all cheering each other on. We’re all in this together, and there’s room for everybody.” Marnie Uhl, who leads the Prescott Valley Chamber of Commerce, shared that we cannot emphasize enough the significance of shopping locally to support our hometown businesses during the pandemic.
Businesses are hanging on, but the Covid numbers are rising and we need to actively support our local businesses to help them stay afloat through the winter. Shop local, support local, stay local!
Abby Brill is Associate Editor of 5enses. Staff photos.