Corporate vs. local.

Many local business owners say loyal customers and a friendly, personal atmosphere keep them competitive in the face of big business moving into the neighborhood.


The commercial space in the Broadway Tower is filling up, and most of the businesses moving in are part of larger corporate chains. Chipotle, the new fast food Mexican restaurant on the corner of Broadway and College Street, is owned by the enormous McDonald’s Corporation. Great Clips is one of over 2,400 such hair salons located throughout North America. Coffee People started out as a small enterprise at the Eugene Saturday Market in 1974, but was bought out by Orange County, Calif., based Diedrich Coffee in 1999. These companies are widely known and have the advantage of name brand recognition. With an independent coffee shop, hair salon and Mexican-style restaurant within a block of the Broadway, are these owners worried about losing business to the chains?


Patrick Sederis, a recent PSU graduate, owns the P.S. Styles located across the street from the Broadway on Southwest Jackson Street. He said he has not noticed any difference in his business since Great Clips opened just around the corner. Walking into P.S. Styles feels more like walking into someone’s living room than a hair salon, Sederis said, adding that he thinks his business provides more than just haircuts. “I’ve got good atmosphere, jazz playing, there’s chess and video games. Some people just come to hang out and I don’t care. I just want a positive atmosphere for young people to come into.”


Sederis said he has barely had to advertise since he opened shop just over a year ago because his loyal customers do it for him. “I get a lot of athletes. I know all the athletes, and lots of faculty and students. It’s all been word-of-mouth.”


Sederis also points out that some people appreciate the value of feeling like a person and not a number when they walk into a business. “I had one guy just come in, he said he was gonna try [Great Clips] out, and they asked him for his zip code. He was like, ‘Nah, I’m just going over there,’ and came here instead.”


Down the street at Broadway Coffee and Tea, owner Amir Rahimi said he is not too concerned about losing his customers to the Coffee People opening up two blocks away. He started serving lunch to draw in people looking for more than just coffee and said he also has a loyal base of customers. “I’m not worried. I’ve been here nine years. And 90 percent here are regulars. They feel at home, they come in, they know everyone.”


Rahimi says that though he has a dedicated group of regulars, he does know from experience that a new coffee shop can affect his business. When Seattle’s Best opened in the Urban Center Plaza, he noticed a drop in sales. However, because Coffee People’s opening isn’t connected to such a major campus change as the construction of the Plaza, he is not as concerned. “What happened was they moved the bookstore and the bus stop and that draws a lot of crowds. They moved traffic, so that did affect me. But I don’t think these people walking by are all going to go out of their way,” Rahimi said, pointing to the foot traffic passing in front of his store.


“By the same token, when [Starbucks] moved into the Ione Plaza, that made no difference at all,” Rahimi said, noting that a name brand is still something he has to compete with. “Let’s face it, these guys – Starbucks, Seattle’s Best, Coffee People – they have established names.”


Tom Gilpatrick, professor of marketing and executive director of the Food Industry Leadership Center, says that though name recognition of a chain does appeal to some, many PSU students are looking for something a little different. “Sure, if you’re coming in with a branded product, there’s a higher probability some people are going to come to you. But, I think students here want something that’s different or unique or interesting to them. Most students are just looking for a place they feel comfortable.”


Gilpatrick agrees with Rahimi that regular customers can help keep a small business alive. “For retailers, that core loyal group is a critical part of your business.” Gilpatrick also points out that independent businesses on a college campus can become institutions themselves. “‘If it’s a Cheerful Tortoise or Hot Lips, you know people have been going there for a long time. I’ve been here for 25 years and the Cheerful Tortoise is certainly that at PSU.'”


Rahimi’s coffee shop may not have achieved institutional status yet, but he doesn’t spend too much of his time thinking about the competition from a new corporate coffee shop moving in. “You can’t worry, though. It pulls you to pieces for nothing. Whatever it is, you have to live with it.”