Strength in Numbers

Local business owners tell how to keep small businesses

Waynesburg has struggled to keep small businesses running in recent years. Over five businesses, such as Four Horsemen and Comic and Games, Hot Rods and Waynesburg Coffee Company, closed in 2018. While other businesses have taken their retail spaces, the constant opening and closing of businesses keeps the economic environment alive, but not thriving. Working to create and sustain a profitable business is as hard as it has ever been in Waynesburg, a town with a population of around 4,000.

There are small businesses that have stayed open for several years in Waynesburg, despite all the closures around them: 5 Kidz Kandy, Joe Riggs Sporting Goods, Scotty’s Pizza and The Fashion Shoppe. Kristy Vliet, owner of 5 Kidz Kandy, said the business has been open for around five years. Jim Hunyady, owner of Joe Riggs Sporting Goods, said he bought the sporting goods store 26 years ago from Joe Riggs. Riggs started the business 33 years before selling it to Hunyady. Chris Kiger, manager at The Fashion Shoppe, said her family founded the shop in 1940 and has since owned it. Jim Whipkey, owner of Scotty’s Pizza, took charge of the shop more than 30 years ago, after his brother passed the business to him.

The closures, however, are a sign that the small shop environment in town is not excelling.

“There’s strength in numbers,” Vliet said.  Instead of boosting sales due to less competition, these stores have suffered because of the lost diversity in businesses, explained Vliet and Kiger. 

“A lot of people would come to town if they had more places to go, but they are going to go where they have more choices and shop at other places then a single or two places,” Kiger said. “You need a variety of things in order to draw people to town for shopping itself.” 

For potential shoppers for businesses like 5 Kidz Kandy and Fashion Shoppe, the closure of local restaurants such as Hot Rods is another deterrent. Vliet would sell desserts to customers who came to Waynesburg to eat at Hot Rods. Kiger said. The Fashion Shoppe has seen fewer groups of friends come to Waynesburg for the day to eat and go shopping. 

“I think that probably affects our out-of-towners more than it would locals,” Kiger said.

Online shopping and chain franchises have not helped either. While social media has helped with advertising, the convenience, diversity and price competition of online businesses have taken sales from Vliet and Kiger. While the opening of Walmart has not affected the sales of The Fashion Shoppe significantly, Vliet said Sheetz has taken 5 Kidz Kandy customers. 

“When Sheetz redid itself, that really hurt,” Vliet said. “It hurt me a lot and a couple other businesses that are around that I’ve talked to.”

Hunyady and Whipkey said they have never had chain franchises significantly take customers from them. Hunyady speculates most of his success comes from accepting special orders, offering cheaper prices and having loyal customers. Whipkey said customers keep coming back because they love his food.

Product diversity is the main change of these businesses. Each has added numerous products to their stores. 5 Kidz has added retail, food, and catering; Fashion Shoppe is constantly adding clothing brands; Hunyardy added archery products. Scotty’s is the exception, as Whipkey said he has had the same recipes and menu since he started. The aspects that have changed are faster production and no longer selling beer. 

“You don’t want someone to come in and duplicate what you do.  

Each of the aforementioned businesses has also focused on customer relationships; learning about the people who come into their stores and maintaining the already established relationships. Relationships and quality products that people want lead to positive word-of-mouth.

“Word-of-mouth is big in this type of business, especially with the gas boom in the area,” Whipkey said.

While customer relationships, product diversity and quality keep shops unique from each other, more shoppers visiting Waynesburg for their needs is imperative for the survival of small businesses. A main deterrent for shoppers is the lack of free parking for businesses on E High Street, Vliet, Hunyady, Whipkey and Kiger said. The amount of two and one hour parking is lacking. 

“Free parking helps. We do have a lot of traffic here,” Hunyady said. “There’s more traffic here than on the interstate.” 

Vliet, Hunyady, Kiger and Whipkey aren’t certain as to why their businesses have survived and others of their kind have closed. They focused on growing relationships and diversify their products, and their strategies seem to be paying off.