In a downtown retail stretch that used to boast many viable pan handling locations, the empty store fronts and vacant display windows now present are an ongoing concern to those who make their livelihood on the kindness of customers.
“Used to be, there was places all up n’ down here where we could set up and make some coin,” remembers a local man. “Nowadays, there’s three or four of us all fighting to try to get in front of the same spots because that’s the only place which sees any customers.”
Indeed, the concentration of those seeking spare change has been accelerated by the removal of many downtown retail spaces, and the resulting reduction in patronage. Normally the winter months are particularly lean, with tourism dollars drying up until the warmth of spring, however this year has been particularly bad with the combination of poor weather and store closings meaning that a record low pedestrian traffic was observed throughout downtown sidewalks.
Some of those asking for handouts have taken a more long term approach, by establishing themselves in empty entranceways of previously occupied businesses. These home bases provide some consistency to the downtown working crowd, but are not nearly as successful as an open business would normally be.
“How are we supposed to get someone to stop and pass off some change when people are only passing by on the way to somewhere that’s open?” Remarked a young woman. “People just put their blinders on, and walk on to where they’re going. There’s nothing in the windows to make them slow down and look these days, and that used to give us an easy way to get their attention.”
Others have begun forming partnerships to cover a wider area and pool their earnings. It is hoped through this method that they may be able to generate enough to start a small business in one of the vacancies, providing a much needed influx of shoppers.
“It’s about being self sustaining,” remarked the organizer. “Eventually we start generating enough that we can get a retail space and maybe start selling something. People come in and we make some money on their change. The business model is there, we are just hoping that we can organize well enough to get it started.”
When asked what kind of business, they were dismissive.
“Doesn’t really matter, it’s not like it will make money,” they explained. “Rents are so high, at this point the business is going in as a loss-leader for the other half of the partnership. We are being realistic here, because we know there’s no way to make a profit no matter what kind of place we open.”