I have been out of college for around two years now and, amazingly, I am having the same issues with community sustainability in my new location as I did back in college. This is both frustrating and a bit sad. Here’s the basic problem, there are only certain times of the year where ‘fun’ businesses make money and so they just don’t make the cut long term.
This is a huge problem at UW-Whitewater. The city literally loses half its population every summer to the departing masses of students. Now this is hedged a bit by the fact that 1/2 the students go home on the weekends anyway (with weekend being Thursday to Sunday). So really even though you have these masses of consumers, it is very hard to make any money because 50% of the time you are way under capacity and 50% of the time you are way over. And, to make matters worse, often times the demands that college students have are so far out of alignment with the demands of the local population that there is little to no crossover in activity interests. This makes an already tough situation that much tougher.
A similar thing appears to happen in Dodgeville (and surrounding community). There are huge amounts of hotel capacity and stores that depend on tourist traffic. The problem? Who is coming to WI for a vacation in the winter? And how can cute, fun, but out of the way places draw traffic if there isn’t a constant stream of people?
There are great businesses that just can’t make it. Great restaurant, like the Walker House in Mineral Point, WI- to whom this post is dedicated to, don’t get the traffic they need to make it. I have great memories of the Walker House in the short time I have been here. I ate my post-marathon meal there. I tried to bring in new customers as often as I could. They even started to know my name, and most definitely knew exactly what I was going to order (Patty Melt w/ the best homemade fries you have ever had). Heck, they even remembered that I was always bringing someone new. It had atmosphere. It had class. It didn’t have traffic.
The Walker House is now closed and looking for a partner. I think that they have many of the right components, but just fall short on a marketing and business plan. It would be interesting to do some discovery and see what it would take to open up again or what sorts of sales they had when they were open. Just a thought.
This just leaves me with that buring question, how is it that some small out of the way restaurants can make it and by word of mouth they get more traffic than they can handle while other places with equally good food and atmosphere can’t generate the same thing. The only conclusion I can think of is a concept that I read about in the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Basically you need somebody to love the place that knows people and will spread the word. You need a reliable and passionate brand advocate. I guess Walker House just didn’t have enough of them.
Do you know any great restaurants that are out of the way?
This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.