Several recent and upcoming closures on Commercial Street have raised fears of a weakening downtown business core.
Office supplier Abeco Office Systems and specialty gift store Adagio both closed storefronts this week. Home decor shop In the Boudoir and clothing store The Fox & Fawn are following suit next month.
J.C. Penney, the largest retailer downtown, closed last year. The stores are shutting down as the economy across Oregon and the United States is relatively strong, a worrisome sign of what might happen in Astoria when the economy inevitably dips.
But the reason behind each closure is unique, and the Astoria Downtown Historic District Association cautions against overreacting to the ebb and flow of retail.
Abeco Office Systems and Columbia Chocolates, owned by Royal Latham, has been selling off its inventory since the beginning of the year as he and wife, Teri, prepare to retire and transfer the copy sales and service business to their son, Patrick. Latham bought Abeco in 1993 from the Stramiellos, who he said had operated the Astoria Business Supply Co. since the late 1940s inside 1132 Commercial St., now the site of future a minimall under construction and called Astor Court. Latham relocated the business to 1254 Commercial St., a former sporting goods store.
Neither the office retail, nor a chocolate business later acquired to accentuate greeting cards, were ever a main part of the business, Latham said. Abeco services about 1,500 copiers in the Portland metro area, east to Pendleton and south to Newport, he said.
With competition from the internet and larger retailers, Latham sees an inexorable march toward a more tourist- and service-oriented economy downtown.
“I think that’s what the city has to be geared for,” he said. “I don’t know how else to do it. I think they’re going to be challenged with trying to define themselves.”
Lynn Buckmaster opened Adagio at 1174 Commercial St. in 2001 after operating a similar store in Cannon Beach called COLLiDE since the 1990s. After 30 years of running businesses, Buckmaster said, she is ready to transition into advocacy on behalf of the world’s oceans.
“My goal is to raise awareness enough so people will change their behaviors,” she said, adding that while the task is monumental, “I’m sure to fail if I don’t try.”
Buckmaster prided Adagio on carrying only products made through fair and sustainable practices and hopes Astoria can develop into a beacon for sustainable business, with more light manufacturing and locally focused businesses like makerspace Astoria Maker Industries.
“I think the hospitality services, retail, hotels, restaurants, that type of thing … they’re not a living wage for their employees, not truly,” she said. “They’re a dead end, basically. We need more green jobs, and I think more creative enterprises — not just stuff.”
Sue Allen Clarke opened In the Boudoir, a home decor store, five years ago in the Allen Building on the corner of 10th and Commercial streets. A few years ago they were joined by clothing boutique The Fox & Fawn, started by Alicia Phifer and later taken over by Ayla DeCoraggio. Both stores are closing next month.
“I’m putting a lot of stuff online, freeing up time for personal stuff,” Clarke said.
Both Clarke and DeCoraggio said it was a challenge getting enough foot traffic farther from the cluster of shops near the Liberty Theatre.
Fox & Fawn probably filled a niche left by the closure of J.C. Penney, DeCoraggio said, but “there seems to be a trend where people are doing less actual buying overall of consumables in general.”
Lee’s Attic, an antique store at 1312 Commercial St., also has closing signs posted. The owner could not immediately be reached for comment.
The downtown association is aware of the recent closures.
“However, we’re excited to have seen several new shops come into downtown and find success like Good to Go and Naked Lemon,” Sarah Lu Heath, the association’s executive director, said of the new sandwich shop and bakery on Commercial Street, along with Nourish Juice Bar in the Astor Hotel Building.
Heath also pointed to the restoration of two long-blighted Flavel family Commercial Street properties by new owners, with new businesses coming in, as a sign that downtown is still on a healthy track.
“Overall, (the downtown association) still believes that downtown Astoria is a great place to do business and we’re looking forward to welcoming new outfits to our district,” she said.
The downtown association recently issued a business cluster analysis calling for more local-oriented businesses, including a general clothing store and midbudget grocery outlet.
“Later on this year we will be looking at some business recruiting,” Heath said, adding they will also look at how to expand the offerings of existing businesses, such as groceries at the Astoria Downtown Market convenience store.