SPECIAL REPORT: Are small businesses struggling in Lake Charles?

SPECIAL REPORT: Are small businesses struggling in Lake Charles?
(Source: Wikipedia)

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Lake Charles has seen growth, but over the past year, you may have noticed a few notable restaurants and small businesses closing.

Why is this the case if our economy is said to be thriving?

"It's not a big town but you have to stay relevant," said Brett Stutes, owner of Sloppy Taco and Sloppy's Downtown.

Stutes has had some success here in Lake Charles over the past three years, becoming a major player in the local food scene. He also has a new venture on the way, right next door to Sloppy's Downtown.

"The restaurant business is by far the hardest thing I've ever done," said Stutes.

However, his success hasn't been without challenges, especially when it comes to finding staff.

"People can easily say 'Screw it, I'm going to go work at the plants and at the casino and make good money and probably not have to perform as well as you would for a local spot where the microscope is on you a little bit more,' " said Stutes.

Also, the competition can be stiff.

"Just a small amount of people that spread out between all of the businesses out there trying to make money," said Stutes.

He says you have to be different.

"You have to have a lot of bells and whistles for people," said Stutes. "You basically have to have slot machines everywhere with bells and noises and sirens and candy flying everywhere and get outside and dance, or whatever you have to do to be different and create your own foot traffic, if there isn't any. Just more frequent events and reasons for people to come hang out downtown."

But, he remains positive, saying there is a lot more happening and a lot of great businesses downtown, also coming off the success of the first annual Pizzafest. Festivals prove to be a positive for the businesses, especially for the gypsies who have found their home on the corner of Broad Street and Ryan Street.

"That was our best sales day since we've opened. Art Walk surpassed Mardi Gras and St. Paddy's day and it was only 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. so we were hoping for those four hours, but it's going to take regular events like that downtown to sustain the smaller businesses," said Queen Gypsy, Lisa Moye.

Moye has had the Cajun Gypsy Corner Store since January and although its a much-needed amenity in the downtown area, it's not a profitable business just yet. But Moye is sustaining and growing every day.

"We've evolved already in a short time," said Moye. "We support a lot of local artisans with everything from local beef and honey, to local jewelry artists and potters, homemade soaps, homemade bread and butter pickles, local salsas, hot sauce."

For a business who supports local, Moye says the community needs to do the same.

"I haven't seen a lot of that and it's sad because they all talk about growing downtown and representing Lake Charles and all that it offers and we're kind of doing a poor job of that right now," said Moye.

There are a lot of factors as to why businesses all over the city haven't had success.

A rise in rent for some, like Vickie B's or Coyote Blues. The population shifting to different parts of town.

The math just might not add up with population versus business. Lake Charles may just be slicing up the same sized pie.

But the SWLA Economic Development Alliance remains positive.

"You're seeing a lot of residential development and where people are and rooftops, you'll see retail and restaurants follow," said President George Swift.

There is new construction all over the city and even downtown, but will it be able to be filled?

"I think the population will continue to grow and right now we're in the construction phase of most of the industries," said Swift. "Right now, we have about 18,000 construction workers building the plants and as they are built, the permanent workers are hired. We're projecting 18,000 permanent jobs being created in the area over the next five to seven years."

It's no doubt Lake Charles is worlds different than what it was just 20 years ago, but will it continue to be an uphill battle for some?

In hopes to revitalize some areas around the city and encourage development, Mayor Nic Hunter has introduced economic incentives for:

  • The Lakefront: Tax Increment Financing District (TIF), Economic Development District (EDD), Property tax incentives for economic development, One-time construction fee waivers.
  • I-10 and Enterprise Boulevard: Tax Increment Financing District (TIF), Property tax incentives for economic development, One-time construction fee waivers, Opportunity zones created by HB 1.

TIF districts will allow the City to leverage a portion of future, unrealized sales tax revenue using one percent of the existing 2.5 percent. No additional sales tax.

EDD's will allow the city to leverage an additional levy of one-percent sales tax.

With backing from the Downtown Development Authority, The mayor will soon bring these plans in front of the City Council.

Click HERE to see how you can support local businesses.

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