Lyons businesses face tight times as economy slows
September 22, 2010 | 08:46 AM
Lyons Township — It may not be a village, but Lyons does have a downtown, just south of Highway 36, about four miles northeast of Lake Geneva.
Many of the businesses are small, and in talking to some of the owners, business is not booming as owners hang on, hoping the economy will turn around.
That's particularly true in the restaurant and tavern businesses, which have been suffering since the disaster of Sept. 11, 2001. For those in TV and auto repair, business is OK, but not as good as it could be.
One of the causes of the current business downturn is that "people are saving more money now and they're not spending as much," said Bill Ryan, downtown revitalization specialist for the University of Wisconsin Extension in Madison.
Joe Schaefer, a Walworth County Board supervisor and owner of Ye Olde Hotel, 6070 N. Railroad St., Lyons, said that business at his restaurant has been on the decline since Sept. 11, 2001.
"People started to change their behavior," said Schaefer.
It may sound almost too convenient as an explanation, but 9-11 was a real blow to the U.S. economy, Ryan said.
"The demise of a lot of businesses has happened since 9-11," he said. "It was a real shock to the hotel and hospitality business. Those hospitality businesses were in recovery when the Recession of 2008 caught them short for a second time."
In addition to the business downturn accompanying 9-11, a further reduction in business occurred when people decided not to travel too far from home for food and entertainment, he said.
Consumers are now becoming increasingly frugal and buying needs over wants.
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If that results in the loss of businesses in these small communities, that would be a great loss, Ryan said.
"Business centers like Lyons and Springfield have a role to play. More and more people are looking for that connection to community," he said.
While they may be several causes for the loss of income in the Lyons business district, there is one common complaint, and that's the recent rise in sewer rates. The Lyons business district is within the Lyons Sanitary District. The district is building a new, $4 million sewage treatment plant. The basic charge is $198 per quarter for a residential unit, and it will probably increase early next year.
Ye Olde Hotel
"The costs keep going up, you work harder, put in more hours and you get less," said Schaefer, who has owned Ye Olde Hotel for 41 years. "This isn't struggle anymore. It's survival."
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Business continued to slow with the recession of 2008 and business slowed even more. But that didn't stop regulation, said Schaefer.
For example, an annual restaurant license is now $415, said Schaefer.
The Hotel was built in 1860 as a hotel and restaurant that catered to cattle buyers who came up to Lyons from Chicago by rail. While shopping the local cow flesh, the buyers would stay at the hotel, Schaefer said.
Schaefer, a Vietnam War veteran, said he bought the Hotel for $25,000 shortly after he mustered out of the U.S. Army 41 years ago. Schaeffer bought more than a business; he also bought a piece of Lyons history.
The restaurant's 27 tables seat about 110. The restaurant is open Wednesday through Friday 4 p.m. to 9:30 or 10 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., with closing time depending on the customers.
Schaefer said his restaurant drew a clientele from Lake Geneva, East Troy, Burlington, Kenosha and parts south. Schaefer said many of his regulars would set aside a special day for dinner at Ye Olde Hotel. That's not happening so much, anymore, he said. With the economy in decline, customers are cutting back.
"I don't see as many Chicago people coming up during the summer, he said.
Now the business has to face a jaw-dropping increase in sewer rates. Sewer bills that were once $111 per residence per quarter jumped to $198. Schaefer said that his sewer bill for July was $1,188 for three months.
"I worked 41 years and I get bit by this?" he asked. "I don't sleep at night."
Bonnie and Betty's
Across the street from Ye Olde Hotel, Bonnie Johnson was sitting at the entrance of Betty and Bonnie's with her husband, Merle.
Asked how business was going, she summed it up with: "It sucks. That's pretty much it."
Merle and Yvonne "Bonnie" Johnson have owned Bonnie and Betty's for the past 38 years.
Originally bought by Merle and a partner, Betty and Bonnie's was named after their wives. The partners left years ago, said Bonnie. And Merle is in bad health.
A real problem right now is the quarterly sewer rates, Bonnie said. She said her last bill last quarter was $900.
Sit down at the bar at lunch time, and Bonnie will whip up a burger and fries while Pickles the dachshund patrols the floor for crumbs.
Bonnie said that business at the tavern had been in decline for the past three years. She said it started with the state Department of Natural Resources, which told the Johnsons that their water was tainted. A new 620-foot well cost them about $30,000, she said. The Johnsons then had to install a $3,000 filter to eliminate the smell from the new well's water.
In June this year, the state's no smoking law took effect, which Bonnie says further cut back business. But the underlying problem is the recession, she said.
The regulars aren't coming out as much.
"They don't have job," Bonnie said. And finding a job isn't easy. "There's just nothing out there."
This year, winter was the better season. Snowmobilers looking for a beer and a place to warm up found Bonnie and Betty's which is close to a snowmobile trail. But that's an unreliable source of income, dependent on snowfall and snowmobilers who don't mind spending a couple of bucks.
"People say, why don't you sell? Even if I wanted to, who would buy?" Bonnie asked. "The economy has been terrible."
Televent Video Service
For years, Don Shannon ran his video taping and tape transfer business in Oak Park, Ill., but in 2008, he moved it closer to his home in Lyons. The building he now occupies was built in 1909 as Lyon's State Bank.
Shannon runs Televent Video Service, 1460 Mill St., with the help of his son and daughter.
The company is a full service production house specializing in corporate video communications. The company makes meeting-theme animated logos and computer-generated presentations with original music themes and jingles. Televent also does on-site videotaping and documentation.
The company also transfers 8mm and 16 mm film to DVD and Beta and VHS tapes to DVD.
Shannon, who's lived in Lyons since 1995, said the business does well, especially with Televent's advertising that reminds people that their memories stored on video tape generally has a shelf life of only 10 years.
The memory DVDs do well, he said.
"We are seasonal in that a lot of people like to give these out as Christmas presents," he said of the DVDs. "A lot of the old films are very interesting," he said. "We get tapes from all over the world."
Shannon said that 2009 was a good year. This year, however, has been a bit slower. He said maybe last year was a good one, because "we were new to the area." He quickly added, "I hope not."
Like other business owners, Shannon doesn't like the current jump in sewerage fees. He said his shop has one toilet and pays $300 a quarter in sewer fees.
"I don't think it's fair to pay that much," Shannon said.
Oil Wagon Auto Repair & Body Shop
Good economy or bad economy, people still have to get around, said Jeff Doyle, owner of Oil Wagon Auto Repair & Body Shop, 1456 Mill St.
People aren't buying new cars, they're getting their old cars fixed, he said.
On the other hand, that's all they're doing.
"They're only fixing what's breaking," said Doyle. "They're not doing preventive maintenance."
Still, Doyle has no complaints about his customers' honesty.
"For the most point, everybody is good about paying," he said. "I haven't seen any bad checks in a while."
Doyle lives in Lyons. He had worked in construction for a while, but found his calling in auto repair.
The location Doyle bought in 2000 has been a gas and service station for generations. Doyle said the gas pumps were removed in 1979, but locals still come to his repair shop for their auto needs.
It doesn't hurt that the shop has been here for decades, Doyle said.
Greg Krawczyk, co-owner of Michals TV & Appliance, 6032 S. Railroad St., Lyons.with Jim Michals, said that while the economy took away some business, it also gave some business.
"Our business as far as sales has been slower," Krawczyk said. But, "when people ain't buyin', they're fixin'."
The shop, located in a former pickling plant, is full of televisions of all screen sizes and descriptions.
Some are already repaired and waiting for pickup, while others are still waiting for a key part or two.
It's not steady work, Krawczyk said. "You get 2 or 3 days in a row nothing. But then you get a few days where things go crazy,
"But I'm still eating."