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Uptown will use AU study to recruit new businesses

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:16 PM

Main Street Manager Dave Gulden will use a study by Ashland University business marketing students focusing on consumers to recruit new businesses for uptown Norwalk.

Gulden said the study came up with some several suggestions restaurants, clothing and retail, sporting goods and places geared to the younger generation such as video game stores and boutiques.

"This will turn into recruiting," Gulden said, adding he will focus on finding businesses from other towns in the area that might be interested in opening a second location in Norwalk. "This is ammunition for me to recruit the types of businesses people are looking for" to fill five large spots in the uptown area.

Gulden admitted several of the suggestions would replace locally-owned businesses that have closed such as Outdoorsman, Meek's Bakery and Pohl's. But he believes those types of businesses can be successful in Norwalk.

"We won't be as attractive to chains as we are to independents," Gulden said. "We're looking for niche retailers."

While consumers didn't like the business mix in the uptown area, they did enjoy the cleanliness and the historical feel of the area, Gulden said.

"The study confirmed what we knew, but we were glad to get it," he said, because it gives him statistical proof for businesses he recruits that Norwalk has a market for their product.

He said another complaint that came up in the study was parking, adding that is more perception than reality.

"Out of town people aren't necessarily sure where the free parking is," Gulden said. "There's plenty of it. We have to direct people to it easily with better signs."

He said people see vehicles lining both sides of Main Street and don't realize there is free parking on both ends and both sides just one block away.

The study showed that most consumers shop out of Norwalk for many items.

"There's a lot of what's called leakage to other markets. They're going to Sandusky or Mansfield for bigger ticket items such as furniture, electronics and clothing," Gulden said.

The Main Street board, economic restructuring committee, Mayor Sue Lesch and several city councilmen attended the presentation of the study by Professor Kristen Hovsepian's class.

Gulden said Hovsepian, who has taught marketing and business at Ashland University for 27 years, might bring back future classes to do more in-depth research in Norwalk and continue the study. He said she would like to focus on the growing Hispanic population, interview consumers in better weather since this study was conducted in the winter and talk to more business owners.

For the current study, students interviewed about 180 consumers, which Gulden said was "statistically significant," according to the statistical analysis model they used.

A copy of the study will be posted on atwww.mainstreetnorwalk.org as the organization updates the Web-site.

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