Businesses struggle at Jenkins Court location
Owners attribute Jenkins Court curse to low traffic, lack of support from town
Published: Friday, March 1, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 1, 2013 03:03
Bright signs and posters plaster the windows on Jenkins Quality Goods, concealing the inside of the store from passing pedestrians walking down Jenkins Court. They read “Everything must go!” and “20% off.” Meanwhile, What a Crock sits in empty silence directly across from the clothing store.
By the end of the semester, both of these locations will no longer serve the students and residents of Durham.
Jenkin’s Court has seen two other businesses shut their doors in the past two years. Two Strikes Barbershop shut down earlier this year, and Wings Your Way, a popular restaurant amongst students, closed in 2010.
With Jenkins Quality Goods and What a Crock adding to this expanding list, one can’t help but wonder why Jenkins Court has such a high turnover rate.
To What a Crock Proprietor John Knorr, the answers are simple: location and competition.
“We anticipated doing more business, but we don’t have the sales,” Knorr said. “There are a lot of options downtown. We’re just not visible to the majority of the people who come downtown. It’s tough. People just don’t think of coming down here.”
Last spring, Knorr conducted an outreach program where he gave free samples to 500 Durham residents in order to increase business. The following fall over 3,000 students also received free samples, but sales still weren’t improving.
After a two-year evaluation he decided that it wasn’t worth it to keep What a Crock running. The restaurant closed its doors on Wednesday.
Knorr estimates that only 30 percent of the people who received a free sample actually knew where the restaurant was, despite all the advertisement.
“There was a real lack of awareness on campus,” he said. “We knew this would be an issue being on Jenkins Court.”
But Doug Palardy, the owner of Jenkins Quality Goods and Ale House Inn in Portsmouth, thinks it’s more the attitude of the Durham residents and competition, and less the location and awareness, that led to the downfall of his store.
“Most of the Main Street businesses have been there a long time. If you’re not one of those businesses it’s going to be a challenge,” Palardy said. “Durham is a tough nut to crack.”
In order to run a successful business downtown, one has to appeal to both the UNH students and the townspeople, Palardy said, explaining that he felt the store mostly appealed to the students.
Palardy was faced with this challenge during the first week of opening. A Durham town councilman, who he chose not to name, approached Palardy with numerous complaints about T-shirts that residents found offensive. One T-shirt depicted how a bottle of beer is opened. Another read “Maybe Partying Will Help.” He was asked to remove them from the store window.
“I’ve never been told how to run my businesses,” Palardy said. “Being told that the first week open doesn’t bode well.”
Current businesses on Jenkins Court feel the same pressure of appealing to students and townspeople to survive. Alex Saetune, the owner of Thai Smile, said that during the two years his restaurant has been in business he has seen a good mix of residents and students. However, he believes that it’s the students that keep Thai Smile alive during the weekdays.
According to Knorr, the issue wasn’t who came, it was how many came.
“We had a great customer mix, just not enough of them,” he said.
Both Knorr and Palardy said that if given the option again they wouldn’t choose Durham to start a business, and they wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else either.
However, Zapoteca Restaurante y Tequileria, a Mexican restaurant originally based in Portland, Maine, is being constructed on Jenkins Court. Despite all the warning signs, proprietor Tom Bard is confident that it will find success in its second location, even if it is “a little off the beaten path.”
“I think it gives the students some good food options and the residents some good food options,” Bard said. “Getting more contemporary and ethnic foods will serve them very well. “
Bard is familiar with the problems that Jenkins Court has faced over the years, and he said he hopes that Zapoteca will help bring awareness to the street and revitalize it.
Jenkins Quality Goods’ lease is up in May, but Palardy hopes that he will be able to move everything out before then. He believed that if he waited for the current freshmen to graduate, the store’s name would gain more recognition.
Still, he doesn’t think that it would make sense to wait that long.
“I’d love to stay and make it work, but there’s no point waiting four years to make it happen,” Palardy said. “I’m not sad about it. It’s just a reality.”