A redbrick street lined with restaurants and small boutiques, High Street in uptown Oxford is known for its quaint, small-town feel. Small businesses make up the heart of uptown business, yet a slumping economy could have an effect on a few Oxford staples. Here’s a look at some Oxford business and how they are faring the storm.
With doors opening at 28 E. High St., The Apple Tree has been a staple for Oxford residents and Miami University student shoppers since 1979. Stocked with gifts, clothing and accessories, co-manager Mary Lou Jones said the reason for the store’s continued success is its variety of merchandise.
Joan Clark, also a manager, said The Apple Tree stays competitive due to its specialized inventory-especially when it comes to Vera Bradley bags.
“We offer things that no one else around here has, and it’s of a good quality,” Clark said.
According to Jones, The Apple Tree runs a large portion of business on sales of Vera Bradley products since the store is one of the few licensed retailers of Vera Bradley in the area and the only business in Oxford with the brand’s multicolored bags and accessories.
Jones said the appeal of Vera Bradley bags brings in both local residents and Miami students.
“We have stuff that other people do not have, like Vera Bradley,” Jones says.
Like The Apple Tree, Collected Works at 29 E. High St. also uses a unique product base to lure in customers.
Amy Allen, manager of Collected Works, said the store can be described as an eclectic collection of jewelry from the United States and around the world, artwork, accessories and home décor.”
“We carry different lines and offer different things than a lot of other stores,” Allen said. “Our customers like different things, and we give that to them.”
Selling and engraving jewelry, Allen said Collected Works has been in business for at least 25 years.
Across the street from Collected Works, fashion boutique Juniper works to attract “Miami girls,” according to manager Jill Levenderis.
“Most of our customers are the female students at Miami,” Levenderis said.
Levenderis said Juniper stays competitive by offering fashionable clothing and jewelry at reasonable prices.
“(We’re) very young and hip,” Levenderis said.
Fighting for business
Despite her store’s usual steady stream of business, Allen said the current economic situation has affected sales.
“Yes, business has slowed down,” Allen said. “People don’t spend year round like they used to. They only come in for the holidays now.”
Allen said she has increased advertising efforts to supplement slowed business.
“We ran an ad in The Oxford Press a couple weeks ago to try and bring people in,” Allen said.
Although stores like Juniper and The Apple Tree may rely on Miami students for a majority of business, Allen said her customer base is more balanced.
“We pretty much have a fifty-fifty split between the students and the townies,” Allen said.
Yet for Levenderis, maintaining a student base while also attracting more residents is a necessity.
According to Oxford Economic Development Director Alan Kyger, the combination of the current economy and the city’s demographics results in a difficult environment for businesses.
“In the economic cycle we’re in now, it’s very difficult for businesses to borrow money,” Kyger said. “It’s making it harder to get loans from banks to get working capital.”
Kyger said the student demographic plays a large role for what type of stores can survive in Oxford.
“Large national chains see demographics from Oxford and choose not to locate here because of the number of people,” Kyger said. “We also show up as having a lower income because of all the students that live here. Mom and Pop stores understand the market and are willing to locate here. Local stores typically have an individual financially backing them, which makes things difficult because they have to have the finances to have a larger merchandise variety.”
To increase sales, Levenderis said the recent launch of a cosmetique is one of multiple efforts to attract Oxford residents.
“We have a new baby (clothing) line, which is one way we are trying to draw people from Oxford into the store,” Levenderis said.
Even during the school year, some stores find it difficult to draw in students. With an increase in online shopping, many students will forgo the uptown area to get better deals online. The economy and online competition pose a fairly new challenge for uptown businesses.
First-year Bailey Box is one such student who favors the convenience of online shopping.
“Most of the time, I shop online at American Eagle, Forever 21 and a lot of other stores,” Box said. “They have great clothes that are not too expensive, and ship quickly.”
First-year Elissa Falconer said she similarly does not frequent the uptown retailers.
“It’s really hard to shop at Miami,” Falconer said. “I have probably stopped up there five times or so but that is only when I am already uptown. I have never made a special trip to go and look, it’s just if I am already there and have time to kill.”
Box also said the state of the economy has made her more aware of her spending habits.
“The economic situation has definitely affected my shopping habits, but in kind of a strange way,” Box said. “I’ve noticed a lot of stores having huge sales and if you search the right places, you can find great deals almost anywhere. I’m learning to become a thrifty shopping.”
Falconer, however, said she has not felt much difference in her habits.
“I’ve always really been a conscious shopper, therefore the economy has not really affected me,” Falconer said.