Independently owned businesses fuel local economy
By Gena Mangiaratti
With this year’s arrival of new businesses on the Ithaca Commons, occupancy rates in downtown Ithaca have seen notable growth while other cities still cope with growing vacancy rates in the rough economy.
The secret? Waffles with ice cream.
Or at least hard work, along with an appealing product sold at affordable prices. Julia Pergolini and Alexis Randall remember many storefronts going under around the time they graduated from Ithaca College in 2009. In April of this year, they opened Waffle Frolic in the space previously owned by That Burrito Place.
The idea for Waffle Frolic, named after the parties held by the same name in the late 1700s, was conceived in October 2009. Pergolini and Randall said they wanted to create a place that would add to the nightlife of Downtown Ithaca, particularly for those who, like them, do not engage in the bar scene. At first, they only served coffee, but the idea of waffles was eventually “born out of it.” They have since begun to serve regular breakfast foods, such as eggs and bacon with waffles. At other times of day, people sometimes order ice cream with waffles.
The young entrepreneurs enjoy the versatility that waffles offer and said they often notice passersby standing outside the restaurant mouthing the name of their business: “Waffle fro-lic?”
Waffle Frolic is one of several independently owned businesses that account for much of the traffic in downtown Ithaca. Gary Ferguson, executive director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, finds that in addition to changes in economy, businesses owned independently by young entrepreneurs seem to have played a significant role in reducing the vacancy rate of downtown Ithaca.
“The people who have opened up in the last couple years have beaten the odds, really worked hard to not only get their own financing together, but work to establish a market in a very down economy,” Ferguson said.
The two IC grads at Waffle Frolic note the high commitment it takes to run a business. Open seven days a week, their “weekend” consists of the days when the shop is the least busy, they said, usually Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Another business that recently found its way to the Commons is RandomStyl Computer Solutions. Bran Moxley, owner and head technician, started a computer repair business when he was attending Tompkins Cortland Community College, running an on-site private consulting business while majoring in computer science and computer information systems. Originally from Virginia, he said he saw a lot of potential for computer repair business in the Ithaca area because of the high population of college students. In moving his business to Center Ithaca on the Commons, his computer repair service now has an office space close to the colleges.
On the top of the service counter at RandomStyl is a list showing the different services the business offers, each with a set price. This, Moxley explained, makes computer repair more affordable to those who normally may not be able to pay for the services he offers.
“We don’t charge by the hour; we charge by the job,” Moxley explained. “We don’t say it took four hours to get a virus out, just that it was a virus and malware removal.”
While he said he looks forward to expanding his company, he aims to maintain the personal service offered by a small business—like being able to explain how the bill came out and exactly what was done in the repair.
Other new business owners also add to Ithaca’s atmosphere. After perceiving a lack of affordable beauty product shops downtown, Ithaca natives Lykeesa Hill and Cassandra Landes decided to open Baby Girlz, offering beauty supplies, hair accessories and jewelry.
Immediately upon entering the shop, the owners’ own jewelry creations can be found under the glass counter. The women said they try to cater to adults as well as younger children, and not only people who can afford a high price range. The most expensive item in jewelry, Landes pointed out, is about $6.
“This is like a passion. We never had stuff like this when growing up,” Hill said, while braiding and adding extensions to her daughter’s hair behind the counter.
Other businesses that opened this year are The Bodhi Tree, Anna’s Vietnamese Restaurant and Sarah Blodgett Photography.
The diversity of these businesses reflects the diversity of Ithaca itself. Pergolini and Randall said that when they were first starting out, they realized immediately that they would have to cater to the many tastes of the people of Ithaca.
“We always said we can’t pick a market,” Pergolini said. “There are so many types of people in this city.”
Gena Mangiaratti is a sophomore journalism major who bought three orders of waffles and six pairs of earrings in the course of writing this piece. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.