The 3-year-old UPS Store at Lindsay and Warner roads "was going to be our retirement," owner Mike Biggy said last week. Today, "It doesn't look like it's going to work out that way," he said.
Half the storefronts in the Mirador Square strip mall, at the northeast corner of that Gilbert intersection, sit empty underneath their signs, and Biggy worries whether the shipping outlet he and his wife Marlene opened could cost them their current home.
"I don't have the traffic like I should, and we advertise, we network, we just try everything we can," he said.
Things were OK for the first year, until the mall's anchor disappeared when Henry's Farmers Market pulled out of Arizona due to increased competition in the high-end and natural supermarket sector.
That was almost two years ago. Since then the empty square footage Henry's left behind and the broader economic conditions have dragged down that entire corner, the deteriorating situation coming to a head late this summer when a fitness center, day care, candy shop and gelato shop all went under. A pizza restaurant and other shops didn't even survive to that point.
Biggy said he and other remaining tenants, which include a dry cleaner, insurance office, beauty salon and nail salon, don't have much of a choice but to hold on and see if the holiday shopping season gives them the needed boost.
"We just have to dig into our coffers and get through the holidays," he said. "Just remind people we're here, and just keep shopping, give us a chance."
Brett Scott, president of the Gilbert Small Business Alliance, said this corner is one of the worst off in town, but nearly every entrepreneur in the fledgling group has been set back by the current slowdown.
Scott said Gilbert and other communities have even more to lose when small businesses go away than with "big-box" bankruptcies because the owners are more invested in local infrastructure, schools and other aspects of life.
Scott says that he, as the owner of a security agency, may be one of the few exceptions to the rule that small businesses in Gilbert have been faring poorly.
The alliance he heads provides benefits for its members such as an event every Tuesday for business networking leads and seminars on topics like innovative business solutions to tough economic times. Biggy said he and others have benefitted from belonging to an organization dedicated specifically to the interests of small business.
"They've acted more as a watchdog, they were a big help with that sign ordinance," Biggy said, referring to the town's struggles to find the right level of enforcement when it comes to the A-frame sidewalk signs used by many small businesses. "They kind of raised the red flag for us."
Gilbert spokesman Garin Groff said town officials have not forgotten small businesses, offering help through programs such as Front Runner, a business coaching class sponsored with the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce.
Eighteen entrepreneurs just graduated in the first class after 10 weeks of one-on-one training in market research, finance and other business tools. The Town Council could vote to allocate an additional $20,000 to the program at its Tuesday meeting.
Another option for small business is the town's Industrial Development Authority, which offers bond financing for economic development projects.
Now that lending standards are tight, Groff said, "it's a good alternative for small businesses because the money is still there, and it's a tax-exempt, low-interest loan."