Keeping their heads above water

Keeping+their+heads+above+water

Story by David Heiling, Sports Editor

Walking into the barbershop Starr’s Sister on Water Street, you set your eyes on walls littered with murals and artwork, interesting trinkets and of course, numerous salon chairs.

Starr’s Sister has been in the same building and same family since 1929, but the building was originally a grocery store. The business prides itself with tradition and exemplary customer service.

Chance Orth, a manager at Starr’s Sister, said students who live around Water Street contribute to their business, but non-students of the community comprise a good chunk of its clientele.

“We definitely have our fair share of students that come in here,” Orth said. “All in all, our customers are largely citizens of the community.”

Tradition and exemplary customer service are not unique just to this hair salon on Water Street. Many other stores in the business district focus on these principles as well.

Gaming Generation, located on the Seventh Avenue block of Water Street is a more recent addition to the Water Street business district and in contrast to Starr’s Sister, relies heavily on students for income.

Manager Dan Hagel said when the students leave for winter and summer break is when the business does its worst.

“They’re our biggest market. That is the demographic that we go for and rely on in this business,” Hagel said. “What I really worry about the most is when the college kids go home.”

Gaming Generation is highly reliant on students for its overall business success, and so far students have been taking to the new business quite well.

Because students surround the Water Street district, they help stimulate the economy for the businesses. The coziness, warmth and personal connections the shops offer are important to some shoppers.

Sophomore Nathan Taylor said the atmosphere of local shops like The Goat really makes it seem like customers are valued and differentiates it from chains such as Starbucks.

“Whenever I’ve been to a Starbucks they’re sort of shouting out orders and throwing the drinks at you,” Taylor said. “Whereas here, you get here and there is always someone here waiting right at the counter.”

Like Starr’s Sister, Trucker’s Union has been located on Water Street for a very long time, logging in over 40 years at different locations in the business district.

Trucker’s Union sells everything from tobacco products of different varieties, to jewelry, clothes, local music CD’s and even small toys for children.

Employee Jenny Nyhus said, like Gaming Generation, students are the store’s main customer and also, there is no other place for Trucker’s Union other than on Water Street.

“Would we ever move the business from Water Street? Not ever,” said Nyhus. “Our main business clientele is college students and they’re all right there so they can walk. People who want to shop ‘daytime Water Street’ know where we are because we’ve been here so long. It’s who we are.”

Senior Nick Jennings said he favors Trucker’s Union over similar shops because of the shop’s uniqueness.

“It’s got completely random stuff in there and it’s really interesting to see all that,” Jennings said. “The workers take time to talk to you and make a relationship with you which is really cool too.”

The theme of customer service seems to be recurring for Water Street businesses. While visiting a bike shop right down the block from Trucker’s Union, junior Michael Boucher said he also received great service and ideal prices.

“The customer service was amazing,” Boucher said. “The repairs costed me $35 when they estimated $60 … it has a really nice hometown-ish feel to it too.”

Despite the economic recession affecting the United States and the loss of businesses’ top customers leaving for large periods of time for summer and winter break, these local shops seem to be thriving.

For Starr’s Sister, Orth said he attributes this to great service, loyalty of customers and the level of work that they do in their profession.

“We provide exemplary service,” Orth said. “I don’t think there is anyone in this city that can compete with our level of our devotion to our clients.”

Economic Development Director for the city of Eau Claire Mike Schatz believes there are many reasons for the economic stability of these shops.

One of those reasons is the establishment of good overall businesses and good reputations of those businesses which make the customers keep coming back for more.

“I think there is a very loyal following … there is more of a shop local type atmosphere here,” Schatz said. “I think great customer service, participation in volunteering in the community can go along way in establishing relationships with customers.”

Schatz said the area that the shops are in physically helps out as well because of the beauty and historic presence surrounding Water Street.

“It’s a very vibrant area with nice historic looking buildings,” Schatz said. “Their business improvement district has strong leadership, very committed property owners and is an integral part of this community.”

Water Street also features places to eat, including more expensive than fast-food chain restaurant options. Mona Lisa’s restaurant is a place that is favored over other eateries on Water Street because of its atmosphere.

Senior Kathleen Moore is someone who believes Mona Lisa’s is a great place to eat and would recommend going to Water Street to try it out for yourself.

“I’d definitely go to Mona Lisa’s over other places because of the quality of food,” Moore said. “They have a really nice atmosphere to relax and their menu is really diverse as well.”

For businesses that are on Water Street, old and new, the recipe for success stays the same even in times of economic crises.

Customer service, interpersonal relationships and good products go a long way to maintain loyal customers.

From the near-decade old Starr’s Sister building that has been passed down through the generations to the four-month old Gaming Generation to everything in-between, expect the Water Street business district to not only keep its head above water — but to thrive — for the foreseeable future.