I have a great appreciation for individuals who accept the challenge and the risks involved with running a local business.
We live in a society that has placed great emphasis on low price and convenience above all else, which puts huge corporations at a distinct advantage in purchasing power relative to small businesses.
I sense, though, that a growing number of people are beginning to appreciate that to have a healthy community it is imperative that locally owned businesses thrive.
I was chatting with entrepreneur Alisa Strutzel of Tastebuds about this subject last week and she made the point that locally owned businesses typically invest a high percentage of their profits in supporting local causes, from the school plays and musicals to community sports teams, hospitals and education.
Strutzel invests a good portion of her energy outside the business encouraging the development of Wenatchee Wine Country and the Wenatchee Valley College Foundation. Recently, Tastebuds hosted the first-ever alumni event for the college, which in her mind is important because the school has an opportunity to build on the huge network of individuals who have classes there to enhance its value to the community.
Strutzel’s story of entrepreneurship is a good example of what it takes to survive running a small business. She started out with a wine and coffee bar about seven years ago. It seemed like an odd combination to me but she said the palettes are similar for the two products. It’s been a constant transformation ever since.
Her notion was to build a Cheers-like environment where customers become friends, and that seems to have played out. It’s become a favorite spot for groups of women who want to get away for a glass of wine but don’t want to part of the bar scene and has developed a loyal following among men as well.
Tastebuds started out with minimal food offerings, but a pizza oven was added as they started to expand and now have a talented chef in Miguel Ramos, who has transformed the menu and is doing winemaker dinners, catering and the like.
Music was added, thanks to a partnership with Robert Sandidge of RLS Productions, who has brought in local and regional talent on a regular basis. Most recently, she added jazz on Tuesday nights.
The key to survival, the Sunnyslope native told me, is constant evolution and adaptation.
“If you’re not looking at your (business) every six months,” said Strutzel, “you’ll fall behind.”
I was interested to learn about the amount of collaboration that goes on among some local restaurant owners. A number of them share employees, help each other with ordering and look to create their own identities rather than just duplicating what else is offered.
Entrepreneurs like Strutzel have everything going for them in terms of building relationships in the community and creating value for their customers. How much community members value those qualities determines the financial viability of those locally owned businesses.