Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Frustration with Downtown Hours (Or lack thereof)

I love to eat in downtown Frederick, but I often get the sense that the business owners take a somewhat lackadaisical approach to their hours.

For instance, we were looking for a lunch spot just this past Sunday – a gorgeous warm sunny afternoon. There were tons (Tons!) of people strolling through town. Yes, you could certainly see that Frederick definitely is a destination town on the weekend. There were locals and tourists alike – all shopping and dining.

What a perfect opportunity for a restaurant or sweet boutique to expand its customer base. But – what’s this? So many shops and restaurants were just plain closed. Closed to all the business that was passing by their doors. Why? Yeah, I know everybody likes a day off. But come on folks – this is Retail – no surprise that the hours are pretty miserable. But – not being open on a gorgeous touristy day? That's just plain unwise. My family worked retail for generations. And, there is a rule you have to heed: You need to be OPEN when your customers are around!

Wags? Closed. The Orchard? Closed. And the list goes on....

I expressed my frustration with the closings last October in a letter to the editor. In case you're interested, here's what I wrote back then:

I’m all in favor of keeping the historic flavor and independent flair of downtown Frederick in abundance. However, the merchants need to make some adjustments if they want our support in keeping the interlopers away.

This past Friday night, (it was Light the Night - the precursor celebration to In The Streets) downtown was teeming with music lovers enjoying Deanna Bogart in full boogie mode. Just a few blocks away, a sell-out crowd was streaming to the Weinberg Center to bask in the outrageous humor of David Sedaris. Lots of folks, us included, started the evening tapping our toes to the blues on the creek before heading over to the Weinberg.

I know there were lots of folks, because I saw them. Couples and small groups all pretty much following the same route. Wandering hopefully along Market and Patrick Streets trying to find a quick bite to eat before the Sedaris show began. A sandwich would have done the trick.

So, one after the other, in we went to the nearest bagel shop. “No sandwiches after 7”. Up to Patrick Street and into “Proof” where we were also told “No sandwiches after 7”. I can understand that philosophy on a Tuesday. But, on a wildly busy Friday night where thousands were celebrating the 25th anniversary of In the Streets? This wasn’t a surprise evening – this major event had been heavily promoted for months. And really, is 7 that unreasonable a dining hour on a weekend?

What were these food purveyors thinking? Surely they knew that there would be throngs of hungry roaming the streets in search of tasty treats more substantial than a cookie. I've heard much rumbling about the high cost of doing business in downtown. I can only imagine the cost they incurred by instituting a no real food after 7 policy in a restaurant located in the midst of the revelry.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but that evening, we were actually wishing that our beautiful historic district had a Quizno’s or Subway. They would surely be open for business on a busy Friday night.

I'm not writing this to complain about being hungry(which I was). Rather, I am writing to suggest that a change in philosophy is in order if we want to maintain the character of our historic district.

If the local merchants Downtown Frederick Partnership want to keep Patrick & Market Street free of the dime-a-dozen chains and franchises, then they are going to have to do more than disparage the idea of their arrival. Instead, may I suggest that they vigorously encourage the local shops to make adjustments and quickly adapt to changing market conditions in order to better serve the public.


Anonymous said...

I saw your comment on Tom Sietsema's chat this morning. (Bet you thought nobody but you could figure it out.)

You complain too much. You're not part of the solution. I'd also bet that you're not from Frederick County.

Dining Diva said...

Sorry to have to tell you but I'm definitely not the poster on Tom Sietsemas chat. But I deduce from your comment that I am not the only person disappointed with the opening hours.

what do you propose as a solution?

Liz said...

Hey, was that you that walked through the gym at the armory this morning? I did a double take when I saw you, thinking, I know her. It wasn't until a few minutes later that it clicked that it might be you.

Dining Diva said...

Yes, Liz....I was there! I saw you there and said hello - but you looked pretty busy so I didn't stop to chat. Plus...I had to get to my daughter's school to deliver something and was rushing myself.

SO...are you teaching the class? You're WAY too young to be taking it...

Liz said...

Yep,co-teaching. The class is so big that there are two of us. Whoever is not teaching is watching the class for any issues. Today's class was pretty small. We usually have about 85-90 in there. And no, I'm not WAY too young. I'm only 4 years away from eligibility. I seem to get that a lot though!

Chef Christine said...

I totally get where you're coming from on the hours thing (I made a post similar on FrederickFoodie.com back in March, http://www.frederickfoodie.com/2008/03/coffee-anyone.html)

Here's the thing -- As the owner of a small business myself, hours are really tricky. On one hand, you want to be open all the time so that you never miss a customer. On the other hand, employees are a great benefit you get after being open for a while. most times it's you working the hours yourself. Trust me, I put in a ton of hours outside of The Kitchen Studio. I know that the best solution is to suck it up and be there, but it's a really tough choice sometimes (work, family, sleep -- you know, the basics). Of course, my biz isn't in downtown Frederick, and it's not a restaurant, so maybe I'm not totally qualified to chime in my 2-cents here.

BTW - I love how you handle anonymous posters with negative comments and not enough guts to own up to their comments-- tact and class. You go girl!!

Dining Diva said...

Chef C -

Of course you can put your 2 cents in anytime!

I do understand the pressures facing entrepreneurs with respect to balancing a personal life and a business life. For 15 years, I ran a small business in Frederick - so I'm aware of the stresses that come with trying to please everyone.

However....I still feel strongly that a downtown retailer must be open for her/his customers , especially on weekends and festival days.

BTW- was the cookie day fantastic??? I told tons of people about it and hope you had a great turnout...

Chef Christine said...

Cookie day was great -- thanks for asking! In fact, we're going to host another on in September, so start saving up for the calories now;)

You are totally right. If you're downtown, you should be open. That's how you get business and build a client base. It's just that sometimes it's really hard. (I know -- I can be wussy!) Retail is tough. I think that's why there is such a high burnout rate. Ah well...

Anonymous said...

Downtown Frederick is so awesome, I agree with you, that the picky hours need to be worked on. I'm so mad that I missed David Sadaris this year. My wife and I saw him 2 years ago when he came, and we saw Amy come several months ago, but we must have gotten lazy time around :(