Former Mayor Bill Wilson Jr. was proud of the signs that proclaimed Parkesburg was Programmed for Progress. Back in the 1980s, he envisioned a future Parkesburg rich with growth, and a Main Street that would draw visitors from miles around.Those dreams vanished when the Sadsbury Commons complex was built, and the signs hanging in the borough have since been taken down. Since Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and the other big-name stores in the West Sadsbury Commons opened, small, local businesses have seen just what these big stores can do. But some business owners surprisingly said their companies have been positively affected by the behemoth chains.
"Wal-Mart is probably one of our best advertisers," Jack Asset-to, owner of Assetto's Family Hair Styling, said. "Every time they botch up a hairstyle, they (customers) come to us to get it fixed." He said business has not been hurt at all in the past few years by the large shopping complex.
Longeneker Pharmacy also has not seen a negative affect from the opening of Wal-Mart, which heavily advertises its $4 prescriptions. "Business is good, so I can't complain. We still have our loyal customers," said Debbie Brown, who owns Longenecker Pharmacy, both in Parkesburg and in Gap with her husband, Dick. "I don't think it's affected us much at all," she said of Wal-Mart. "We give good customer service and they don't; that keeps our customers coming."
Anna Pirozzi, co-owner of Rocco and Anna's on Main Street, said even though the West Sadsbury Commons offers several restaurant options, she doesn't think it affected her Italian restaurant either positively or negatively. She mentioned the fact that the increased number of restaurants and stores nearby have brought more people into the area, therefore any former business that she may have lost has been replaced by new customers.
The owner of Parkesburg Thrift and Gift had an interesting perspective on the topic, not as a small business owner, however, as her merchandise in her store-which is more of a trading post than anything-is incredibly unique and inexpensive compared to the mass-produced products of Wal-Mart. Her view came from being a local consumer and mother.
"When I first moved here," she said, "I had an infant and a 2-year-old. I used to take them for walks every day." She said they used to walk to the Dollar General, Acme, the Veggie Vendor, Walter and Jacksons, and a variety of other local locations on a daily basis. She said when guests would come to meet the new addition to the family, she would give them tours of the community, taking them to the ice cream parlor down the street and to the gift shop that used to be on Main Street.
"It absolutely without a doubt affected local businesses," she said. "We saw it all go." She mentioned that the West Sadsbury Commons offers many of the same types of businesses that Parkesburg has lost, including hand-dipped ice cream at Baskin and Robbins and a Chinese restaurant, and that those types of privately-owned businesses started to close immediately after Wal-Mart opened.
On the other hand, she said it may just be time, as the saying goes, to be out with the old and in with the new. "Hopefully it made room for new things," she said.
Miles Reinhart, who owns the Milshar Business Complex on First Street in Parkesburg along with his wife, Sharron, rents out 10 properties and 30 units in the area, which are a mixture of residential and commercial. He is responsible for bringing businesses such as Assetto's Family Hair Styling, Pasquale's Pizza, and Parkesburg Potpourri into the community. He has brought four new businesses into the area since the opening of the shopping center on Route 10. He is also an active member of the Parkesburg Area Business Association.
His personal take is that stores like Wal-Mart and Home Depot could have a negative impact on certain businesses, mainly those who carry competing products. "Any small business today must have a business plan, which includes a marketing plan" Rein-hart said. "They also have to find their niche and understand that they can't be everything to everyone."
He said there are three components to any business: price, quality of product and level of service. In accordance with economic law, Reinhart said a business can only have two of the three.
"A small business cannot compete on price," he said, "thus, they have to figure out how to market and sell their business. Longenecker's learned to compete; they're always busy because they have set themselves apart. Their pharmacy racks are always empty.
"In a small community like Parkesburg, people have to realize that you're not going to have large department stores like Peebles." He said the businesses that will thrive in such a town involve food service or personal service, such as computer sales, barber shops, specialty gift shops, etc.
As landlords, Reinhart said he and his wife have realized that if their customers (tenants) are not profitable, they are not going to be. "You have to have an attractive space," he said, "keep it clean, and keep your prices right. We've earned the reputation that we do it right. Those that don't eventually close," he said, pointing out the shopping center on the east side of town where the former Acme store now sits empty.
"Small towns will benefit more by having private investors," Reinhart said. "And they have to promote themselves."
He explained that he works for Walter & Jackson, a building project supplier, and even though big name home improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowes have opened around the state, the company is still thriving.
"We carry the same kitchen line as Home Depot and we are growing very nicely," he said of the store in Christiana which was recently renovated. "We're carving out a niche and our business is growing because of the quality of our service and product. If the customer is price-driven completely," he said, "they'll buy at Home Depot, but we go the extra mile for them."
He mentioned that Pasquale's Pizza, which has been open in Parkesburg just over a month, is already in need of expansion. "They only use the best food products," Reinhart said, "and they have earned a great reputation over the 18 years that Pasquale has been in business."
He added that only a week after the pizza shop opened, the owners, Pasquale and Rosanna Pillitteri, sent out 4,000 menus t
Lori Brecht owns Parkesburg Potpourri on First Avenue in Parkesburg along with her husband, Erik. The couple has always strived to provide excellent customer service and quality merchandise, but has decide to close their doors due to the pressures of being small business owners in a quiet town. residents in the area and included free coupons. That kind of customer service has generated a huge amount of business.
"Businesses have to work with local municipalities and with each other," Reinhart added. He explained that he partnered with a reality company to help him find tenants and he currently has five potential customers for his units that are currently under construction.
He said for the future of Parkesburg he envisions a greater diversity of businesses, a major reason for this being the 55 and over complexes that are currently in the planning stages. "I can see gift shops and cafes," Reinhart said, "people want to walk, they don't want to drive and get caught in the congestion that we already have out on Route 10."
Parking is the biggest issue that needs to be addressed for the Parkesburg community to thrive, according to Reinhart. He said that is the most obvious reason as to why the empty shops on Main Street have remained empty for so long. "That road was designed for the train and the trolley, not the automobile," he said, addint that enforcing the two-hour parking rule would also have a positive impact on the issue.
"We're working on it," he said of the members of PABA along with borough officials. "We have to make some adjustments." He talked about ideas he has for greener parking lots and new sidewalks in the district, possibly with concrete pavers to make them more attractive.
"Businesses need to work with the municipalities to try to better the community," he said. "Progress has been very slow, but we are moving in a great direction. My wife and I have invested a lot of money in this town over the last few years because we believe in it. It may still be five or 10 years down the road, but the PABA community is going back and forth with the municipality about doing what's in the best interest of the community."
Erik Brecht, owner of Parkesburg Potpourri on First Avenue, however, feels that Parkesburg is not a lucrative location for small business owners. "This is a slower, small town," he said, "and people in the area don't have the discretion to spend money; and there is a large older population that is living on a fixed income. It's just one of those towns I don't see prospering for many years."
He said the majority of his business comes from outside of Parkesburg and he feels many people are unwarranted when they complain that there is no business in Parkesburg, because they don't support the businesses that are here.
His wife, Lori, said she hears some people say they don't like going into Wal-Mart and other big box stores because they are too big and too busy. She added that it's a shame that Wal-Mart kills some small businesses and that it would probably be very beneficial to the borough if something were to move into the old Acme building.
Though Reinhart said they can't put the blame on Wal-Mart, Parkesburg Potpourri is about to close their doors. "We have no other option," he said. "As a small business owner it's a very tough thing and I am rather upset about it." He said it all comes down to the borough being cash poor and the fact that there have been people running the town who couldn't get the job done and actually hindered the process.
Another factor that has probably hurt small businesses in Parkesburg throughout the years is the lack of train service through the area. Right now Amtrak is the only company to serve the borough. Long ago the PA Railroad passed through Parkesburg and had their repair shops in town. Once the shops left, the Iron Co. moved in. Later down the line, about 1900, the trolley began to make stops in Parkesburg on First Avenue. When this happened, the businesses also moved to First Avenue and that became the commercial district.
Reinhart said right now the business association is working very diligently to bring SEPTA, which has served the borough in the past, back to the area. "When they stopped coming, it was because there was not enough ridership," Reinhart said, "but times are changing and the train station has been fixed up since then." He said increased train service would play an important role on the businesses in town, as the current service, though limited, already has a positive impact.
Brecht, on the other hand, does not see an opportunity for increased business in the borough resulting from a resurge in the train service. "Parkesburg would only be a stopping point," he said. "And people won't travel more than 50 yard to go somewhere when they're waiting for the train, especially if the weather is bad."