Status of businesses in Downtown Wayne Improves

First Blockbuster. Then Taco Bell. Upon returning to the Wayne area at the end of the summer, it was hard for Eastern students not to notice the empty storefronts that were once occupied by Saxby’s and Gumdrops and Sprinkles. Businesses around the nation are closing due to unfortunate economic circumstances, and at first glance, it seems that downtown Wayne is being hit especially hard by this trend.

But things are not always as they seem. According to Chris Todd, vice president of the Wayne Business Association, things are actually going quite well.”There are less empty storefronts in Wayne than anywhere else along the Main Line,” says Todd, who is also the owner of Christopher’s, a restaurant that has been in business on North Wayne Avenue for 11 years. “Our business has improved every year. Wayne is the place to be.” For Todd, those few empty storefronts present merely a façade of hard economic times, and “saying that Wayne is not doing well is a bad generalization.”

Instead, when assessing the current condition of businesses in downtown Wayne, one needs to consider the individual situations of certain establishments.An example of this is the fact that a franchise might close because the parent company is having financial issues. This is what happened with Saxby’s and Johnny’s Dog House. Although unfortunate, this is reflective of poor circumstances on a regional or national level, and is not necessarily unique to Wayne.

Additionally, businesses in Wayne are greatly affected by their respective locations. People enjoy walking around downtown Wayne, but might not stray far from the town center, which is currently located at the intersection of North Wayne Avenue and Route 30. This is harmful to establishments that are a little ways down Route 30, especially if the sidewalks are not very good, which is sometimes the case. Todd points out that the new Red Mango location near the corner of 30 and Louella Avenue might alleviate this issue a bit, since it draws people out of the town center and down the street.

Another factor to consider here is rent. That is, sometimes a property’s rent will increase, so the business simply moves to a different location. This is what happened with Troubadour Music, which was formerly located on North Wayne Ave. and now has a new store on West Lancaster Ave.

Of course, there are those times when a small business does indeed fail, but Todd guesses that this only occurs about 20 percent of the time. “The community is what supports the town, but businesses sometimes misconstrue what that community is,” he says. One common reason for failure is that new business owners sometimes miss the mark when trying to determine who their target audience is. Todd says that despite the number of colleges in the area and its proximity to Philadelphia, “Wayne is not a college town, nor is it a city.” Instead, it is a suburb with a high number of families, so businesses that appeal to this demographic tend to do better than those that do not.

All of this said, things in downtown Wayne have actually improved in the past ten years or so. Todd recalls that “there was a point in time when on a Friday night I would walk outside and there would only be four cars parked on North Wayne Ave.” Nowadays, the town is frequently bustling with activity.

For Todd, this is due to the quality of the kinds of businesses located in Wayne, which has improved over the past decade. For example, Wayne used to have several dive bars which appealed to local students, but these have since been switched out with nicer and more family friendly establishments. But more importantly, Wayne is simply much busier than it once was. The intersection of Route 30 and North Wayne Ave. has a lot of traffic-both vehicular and pedestrian. This kind of traffic gives the intersection a town-center kind of feel, and helps nearby businesses.

Todd suggests that the refurbishment of the Anthony Wayne Theater in 2007 greatly contributed to Wayne’s appeal, since it gives people a reason to come to Wayne to spend time with their families. And this leads to another reason for improvement: the increase of families with children, specifically families with enough disposable income to do things like eat out, go to the movies, and shop. But Todd also sites an additional, less noticeable reason for improvement-the landlords.

Although many business owners in Wayne own their buildings, some do not. Fortunately, the landlords of these properties make an effort to improve the town. “Landlords care about what goes in their building,” says Todd. “They want Wayne to work.” It is no coincidence that there are no chain restaurants on North Wayne Avenue-Wayne Square, the strip mall down Route 30, was unofficially reserved for such establishments, and that seems to suit residents just fine.

“By no means is Wayne suffering,” says Todd. Even though there has been some turnover amongst businesses in town, “the movement is a good thing. Having the same 20 places for 20 years is boring.” Residents such as Eastern students are invited and encouraged to enjoy Wayne’s booming downtown and support its businesses. Because even in good economic times, a little support is always appreciated.

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