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The 3 biggest things that plague “problem locations” (and how to fix them)

Last week, I looked at eVapor, a vape shop on High Street that’s doing considerably well, probably due to the surge in popularity of vaping. However, as I mention then, not all business are that lucky.

In fact, Morgantown has quite a few “problem locations”: buildings and storefronts that can’t seem to keep a business open for very long. While these locations have seen a highly diverse background, there are commonalities among them, and the answer to why so many businesses especially restaurants, fail in Morgantown may be linked to the past.

1. Location, Location, Location

Opening a business isn’t an easy venture. Successfully opening one in Downtown Morgantown is almost impossible. Many of the storefronts we’ll cover today are located in or near Downtown. Unless a business has made a name for itself or is otherwise a staple of the town, it’ll struggle, and likely fail or move.

With exception of the Bombay Indian Grill, these locations are very, very close to each other. It could be that new restaurants fare better in other areas of Morgantown, and the downtown area attracts more college students (with less money) and less tourists/townies (usually with more money).

2. Not Everybody Gets a Slice of the Pie

Of the five locations listed above, three of them have been pizza restaurants (or otherwise heavily featured pizza) in recent years. However, downtown Morgantown is already exceeding its pizza quota.

There’s no room for another pizza place in town. You could argue that point by citing the recently-opened Lotsa Mozza’s success, but that restaurant’s presentation and ordering process is so unique that it is able to make a name for itself where other’s couldn’t.

One such place is Tortoni’s, who occupied the building across the street from Pita Pit until last fall before closing after they failed to stand out among the competition.

Ironically (or maybe not, who knows), when I was writing a story about Lotsa Mozza’s opening for the WVU student newspaper, then-Tortoni’s manager Jessica Foster claimed that her restaurant wouldn’t be threatened by the inception of a new pizza place.

We have so much going on here that we’ve just been worried about ourselves. Everything that we do here is made with love. [We’re] a lot different from a lot of other restaurants on High Street where it’s very ‘get-it-and-go’. Here, it’s not like that. We don’t care if you sit in for a while.

While it would be nice to run a business on love and care, in reality, it doesn’t get people in the door. Enough people to sustain a profitable business, anyway.

3. Manifest Destiny isn’t Always the Best Idea

These locations also see existing, successful restaurants, like Pizza Al’s and Tudor’s Biscuit World, try to expand their reach into downtown.

Surprise surprise, it didn’t work.

Why? It’s hard to say. The franchises often suffer from mismanagement and poor advertising, possibly due to the parent chain’s heavier focus on the original store(s). It could also be that those who frequent downtown prefer the area’s already-existing “originals” like Black Bear and Chico’s Fat.

——

However, it’s not all bad news. Places like Beity and Bombay Indian Grill are doing very well, and have introduced the downtown area to a variety of authentic food.

These restaurants, though admittedly in their infancy, are providing the area’s many Middle Eastern and Muslim students and residents with halal food, as well as catering to vegetarians, vegans, and everyone else.

While it’s too early to tell if these new eateries can fix their locations’ curses is yet to be seen, but they’re faring very well compared to their predecessors.

The tide may very well be turning.

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7 thoughts on “The 3 biggest things that plague “problem locations” (and how to fix them)

  1. John Mark,
    Interesting perspectives on the “cursed locations” in downtown Morgantown. It’s funny how some of these locations were not problem spots when I was an undergrad at WVU from 1990-95, while other haunted locations (like where Dirty Bird) are now stable. Is there any factor in what seemed to be a phenomenon 20 years, that recent grads open a business after a couple of years lose their enthusiasm and get out?

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  2. Preston Lilly,
    It is very interesting to me out of all of the restaurants that have failed in the downtown area that Tudors failed. When it first opened I imagined that it would do great. Especially since it was downtown. I thought it would be the perfect thing that students would want in the morning when they wake up hungover. What is not surprising to me on the other hand is that pizza places have a hard time of staying open (with the exception of Lotsa Mozza). There are just so many in our area, and there are always the normal chains like Papa John’s. Especially with the towns seemingly favorite Cassa De Amichy. There is just to much competition in the pizza industry. I am excited to see how the new Indian restaurant does Bombay, because it is delicious. I hope they are able to stay afloat.

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  3. I’ve always been curious why some places on High Street make it, and some, especially those you would imagine to be successful (like Tudor’s), fail. You bring up a great point about expansion from original stores; that’s not something I originally though of, but it makes sense. I also think there’s too much of the same thing on High Street, and if someone had a little ingenuity and came up with something unique to put in these locations, they would be much more successful.

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  4. John Mark,
    Like Kaitlyn, I’ve always been curious about the constantly changing restaurants on High Street. To me, it’s kind of sad. It seems a lot of these restaurants never even get the chance to “make it” before they end up closing. I know in my short 3 years here in Morgantown, I’m constantly being told of a new restaurant opening and it’s always described as the “old (insert restaurant here).” I really liked how you broke up the article into different sections of why these restaurant locations aren’t working and how they could potentially find some luck. Drawing off of what Patrick said, there are so many options for food in Morgantown, it seems almost impossible for so many of the same types of restaurants to coexist, but places like Bombay and Beity bring something different to the area, and I think that gives them a one up on actually being successful.

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  5. You bring up a good point here that a lot of the restaurants that try to open up downtown don’t actually have a quirk that makes them stand out. I don’t think the problem is necessarily with the locations themselves, but with the right type of place coming along that can actually stand out in such a competitive environment. Lotsa Mozza, for example, has an interesting concept (basically Chipotle but with pizza), and therefore is unique enough that it can get by better than the garden-variety pizza joint. Downtown, you need something like that.

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  6. I really enjoyed reading your article John. It’s always somewhat comical to see a new place open on High Street or downtown and then watching it close after a few months. I think there are too many of the same restaurants in one area, and that’s why they aren’t surviving. Not only are there multiple restaurants of the same kind, like all the pizza places you mentioned, but I never see any advertising on what makes them different from the others.

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  7. This piece was very interesting. I’ve always been curious as to why some business are successful and some aren’t and many that fail do seem to be in the same location. I was sad to see Tortoni’s go because I thought it was great but it was virtually empty everytime I went in there. As far as Pizza Al’s and Tudors, I agree that it was probably hard for them to succeed because the original locations have so much popularity even though the Tudors downtown sucked in a major way and I was happy to see it leave. It seems like the restaurants that either offer service in a unique way or offer completely different variates of food are the ones that stay in business the longest. Hopefully this will encourage more diverse restaurants and business to come downtown and they won’t be scared away by these “cursed” locations because I really think that it just takes a good business plan and enough consumers to want your product because there is a need for it to survive downtown.

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