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Chatham Businesses Fighting to Stay Afloat

By Wendell Hutson | September 30, 2013 6:40am
 Two Chatham businesses that opened this year are experiencing slow traffic and if it continues it could force their closures.
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CHATHAM — Last month was the first time Anthony Cherry, co-owner of Luveria's, was able to pay rent for the soul food restaurant without having to dip into his own pockets.

Cherry opened the restaurant at 522 E. 79th St. in May with his brother. Previously, the 20,000-square-foot space was occupied by Izola's, another soul food restaurant that closed in 2011.

"I was happy to make enough money to pay rent last month. Now I am hoping that continues. If I could at least break even every month I would be OK," Cherry said. "But at this pace I cannot keep paying out my pocket. Closing would be a last option."

To adjust to a slow pace, the restaurant now closes at 3 p.m. on Wednesdays instead of 8 p.m.

One idea Cherry has to boost sales is to make Wednesday Seniors Day. He is also considering expanding evening hours on Saturdays to accommodate what he said are usually large crowds looking for somewhere to eat after leaving nearby nightclubs.

A perception of crime in Chatham could be one reason why business has been slow, too, Cherry said. In August, the restaurant was burglarized and equipment was stolen.

"The whole thing was captured on surveillance cameras I have installed in the restaurant," Cherry said. "It was two guys wearing masks who broke a window with a crow bar to get inside and then stole a plasma TV and some music equipment."

Regardless, Cherry said he doesn't think Chatham has a crime problem.

"Actually, Chatham is not a bad place. It's crime in surrounding neighborhoods [like Grand Crossing and Park Manor] that's giving Chatham a bad name," he said.

About six blocks away at 343 E. 79th St. is Flecks Cafe, which opened in June and is also experiencing slow traffic.

"Business has definitely been slow lately. If foot traffic is exactly the same in eight months, we'll have to take a hard look at things," said Zuli Turner, who co-owns the cafe with her mother. "But I'm confident that things will continue to pick-up."

Like Luversia's, the cafe has changed its closing hours during the week to 4 p.m. from 6 p.m.

After studying our reports, we realized that the bulk of our business comes from our lunch and breakfast crowd, so we cut the hours down to 3 p.m." Turner said.

Another reason for slow business could be that people aren't aware of Flecks, Turner said.

"We plan on sending out some mailers with menu information on it to let people know exactly what we offer- we're increasing our marketing efforts all around in order to build more awareness in the community," Turner said.

Another change at Flecks occurs every third Tuesday from 9 a.m.-noon when it presents "Conversation Cafe." That is when customers gather around a table and talk about one particular topic, which is led by a speaker.

Active marketing is a good way to jumpstart business, said Melinda Kelly, executive director of the Chatham Business Association.

"The CBA works with businesses to get them the exposure they need to attract customers, and we encourage residents to support local businesses," Kelly said. "The CBA also offers technology classes because we know in this day and age social media is a powerful tool."

She added that Flecks was a recipient of the CBA's Micro-Lending program, a program that matches small businesses with lenders.

"Access to capital is critical to small businesses, and we want to make sure this is one less barrier for them," Kelly said.