Signs of spring herald business growth in Potsdam

POTSDAM — As spring approaches, vacant buildings downtown are beginning to fill with hopeful new business owners.

Multiple business closed in 2012, including restaurants La Casbah and Julian’s and retail locations such as St. Lawrence Chocolates and Good Times Party Store.

The departures left more empty spaces in a village already peppered with vacancies.

Now new tenants are moving in to replace the old, filling a few of the recently vacated buildings and several longer-time vacancies.

The village Planning and Development Office completed an audit of vacant downtown spaces earlier this month, finding eight empty spaces. Some of these already have found new tenants, according to Planning and Development Coordinator Frederick J. Hanss.

“There have been a lot of people looking for locations,” said Larry J. Hazen, owner of many downtown buildings.

A fitness center is moving into 8 Market St., and longtime village restaurant The Hop is returning to 3 Market St. after being closed eight years ago. Both properties are owned by Larry and Pamela Hazen, and Mr. Hazen said he is in talks with several other prospective tenants who may wish to fill some of his other vacant buildings.

Spring is a popular time for would-be entrepreneurs to open their new endeavors, he said, so there typically is a spike in interested renters this time of year.

Mr. Hanss said he hopes the improving economy means this recent uptick in activity will have a lasting effect, but he agrees that business growth and decline tend to be cyclical.

“That’s the way it goes,” he said. “It’s weird. I’ve been watching this now for eight years.”

The village Planning and Development Office provides loans to small businesses, which are encouraged to seek business-planning resources at the local colleges and universities. But even with help, about four of every five startups fail within the first five years, Mr. Hanss said.

“You always hope, any time a new business starts, that they’ll do well, but it doesn’t always happen,” he said.

While things are looking up for downtown, the situation is less certain on outer Market Street. The plazas along this stretch hold larger businesses such as Price Chopper and Big Lots, along with plenty of empty space.

Unlike smaller downtown spaces, which are ideal for family-owned local businesses, the larger and more expensive areas on outer Market are better suited to larger companies, like national clothing chains.

“The large spaces are difficult to fill, because you need just the right kind of tenants,” Mr. Hanss said.

The village has tried to court several chains over the past several years, with few tangible results so far.

Outer Market’s fortunes may be looking up, according to Mr. Hanss. Plans for a Hampton Inn on the street are well under way, and village leaders are banking on the hotel bringing more economic activity to Potsdam.

“The hotel could have a dramatic impact on rental vacancies in that area,” he said.

The Hampton Inn is one of several major development projects bringing construction revenue to the village, alongside an expansion of Canton-Potsdam Hospital and a student housing complex near SUNY Potsdam.

-Jacob Tierney, Watertown Daily Times staff writer