Austin: Hustling to Stand Out

How small businesses are coping with the downturn

Tom Abdenour, owner of Austin hummus maker and café Tom's Tabooley, is waiting for the other shoe to drop. "We've had a pretty good year," says Abdenour. Food prices have stabilized and fuel surcharges are gone, "but everyone feels like something's going to happen." Sales are up 5%, but Tom's now closes at 9 p.m. instead of 7.

In October, Michael Parker ditched plans to open a fourth Opal Divine's pub. Instead, he's getting his existing restaurants "in fighting shape"—using a consultant to coach his managers and promoting more specials. The extra hustle lifted sales 7% as of February.

Donya Stockton's two lounges on Austin's east side are doing well, but the past year has been the worst yet for her downtown club, Beerland. February sales at Beerland were down a thumping 48%, and neither she nor her husband has been paid since November. The lone bright spot: January's "Free Week," when bands play free at downtown venues. "That week we saw more customers, spending more, than we had seen in the several months before—or since," Stockton says.

At signmaker Sign Satisfaction, business is "O.K.": Owner Dan Klopp says costs are down, but so is the size of his average order. So sales are up 4%, but profits are off 8%. Klopp says a recent investment in automated technology will boost his market share. "When everyone else is panicking," he says, "that's a good time to move forward."

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