Two Brothers Meat Market owners, from left, Joe, Fred and Gary Namer remain optimistic about the future while their business struggles this winter.
When Ti Pi abruptly closed days before Christmas, Gary Namer wasn’t surprised.
“Times are tough for everyone, especially small businesses,” said Namer, who owns Two Brothers Meat Market in Ticonderoga with his brothers Joe and Fred Namer. “Everyone is really struggling.”
While national statistics show the Great Recession has ended and the United States economy is improving, a visit to Ticonderoga tells another story. Three restaurants — Ti Pi, the Carillon Restaurant and the Old Mill Cafe — have closed in the past few months and other businesses — like Two Brothers Meat Market and Rathbun Jewelers — are scaling back operations.
And these aren’t failed start-up businesses. The Carillon Restaurant served Ticonderoga 24 years before owner Russ Slater decided to retire. Ti Pi had been a local fixture for nearly three decades. Rathbun Jewelers celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2010. Two Brothers moved to a new location and expanded a year ago after nearly a decade at another spot.
“The nation continues to go through hard economic times and the Ticonderoga area is no different,” said Matt Courtright, executive director of the Ticonderoga Area Chamber of Commerce. “It is upsetting to see wonderful and dedicated businesses going through these struggling times when we are all working hard to create a new economic climate in the Ticonderoga area. The chamber will work with area businesses in any way possible to provide assistance, support and resources.”
Not all the news is completely bad. Rathbun Jewelers closed this week, but plans to re-open in April.
“I guess you could say it’s a seasonal decision,” said Sue Rathbun, who owns the store with her husband, Howard. “We’ve talked about taking the winter off for several years and now we’ve decided to do it.”
Howard Rathbun stressed the shop will re-open in April and operate as it always has.
“We still have a complete inventory,” he said. “We’re not going anywhere. We’re just taking a break.”
Two Brothers Meat Market is also taking a break, from making sandwiches and subs. The move comes months after the establishment cut its lunch service. The deli remains open to provide sliced cold cuts and the store continues to offer a full line of meats and groceries.
“We just weren’t selling enough subs to make it worthwhile,” Gary Namer said of the change. “We’ll reassess things in the spring.”
Two Brothers had three employees making sandwiches before cutting back Dec. 31. Those three full-time workers have been laid off.
“We held on as long as we could to get them (employees) through the holidays,” Namer said. “Our costs were increasing and the number of sub orders were declining. People are cutting back on spending. They aren’t buying as many subs.”
The meat market is also going to make other changes. A new, self-service meat cooler is being planned and new products are being considered.
“We hope to be back bigger and stronger than ever in the spring,” Namer said.
Joe Namer said the problem lies in stagnant wages for workers and the increasing cost of living.
“No one is making any more money, but everything costs more — food, heat, gas,” he said. “A jar of mayonnaise that used to cost us $10 is now $17. Everything costs us more, which means we need to raise prices — but our customers can’t afford any price increase.”
Customers, particularly local ones, are hard to come by these days, according to the Namer brothers. They estimate that only 40 percent of their business comes from Ticonderoga residents.
“We’d love to see more support from local people,” Joe Namer said, “but I understand that everyone has to save money where they can. If someone goes once a month to a BJ’s or Sam’s Club and buys their meats I can’t blame them. We can’t compete with someone who sells things by the thousands.”
Rick Harker, owner of Mountaintime Furniture in Ticonderoga, understands why local people shop out of town.
“People were definitely shopping the big box stores in December,” he said. “That’s where the media drove them. They didn’t shop with small retailers. We were hoping to see an increase in business in December and we actually saw a decrease.”
Courtright hopes local residents will support local businesses.
“Area community members need to remember and be dedicated to shop local,” he said. “If you can get a product or service locally, then please do so. It is so important to support Ticonderoga area businesses to ensure their success and for all they do to support the chamber and the community.”
Gary Namer believes this winter will be tough on local businesses.
“The next few months are going to be critical,” he said. “If we (local businesses) can hang in there until Memorial Day I really believe things will improve. The summer people will be coming back; the economy looks like it’s improving. Things are going to rebound; we’re not discouraged.”
“When the nice weather comes and the summer residents start to come back enthusiasm will return to downtown Ti,” Harker said. “Winters are tough. We live in the Adirondacks; we know that. I have confidence in Ti.”
Courtright urged the business community to be positive and to work together.
“I want to stress the importance of area businesses and, in particular, chamber members working together, communicating with the chamber, sharing their news, promotional and event information, as well as general business concerns with the chamber on a regular basis so we can work to better serve our members, the business community and the Ticonderoga area,” he said.
“While all of us have to deal with these economic times we do need to remain positive, work closely together, do all we can to support one another and look towards the future and growth of the area,” Courtright said. “We also want area businesses to work closer together to discuss common issues and concerns, as well as how they can work together to ensure the success of all area businesses.”