HANNIBAL — Linda Studer, owner at Mississippi Marketplace, said the difference between summer and winter traffic for businesses in downtown Hannibal is as drastic as the weather itself.
Now entering her ninth winter as a business owner in downtown Hannibal, it’s something she prepares for all year long. With people hibernating at home this time of year, Studer said the lack of business is a hit to the store’s bottom line.
“We wouldn’t be here now if we didn’t prepare. It’s like a savings account, you know that your business is going to slow down,” she said. “Downtown Hannibal sleeps in January and February, and it’s still pretty sleepy in March.”
This is something the entire downtown district feels.
With many local restaurants, and other businesses reducing their hours and going down to skeleton crews, it makes this time of year one where both owners and employees feel the effects of a tighter budget.
Jill Otten, owner of Finn’s Food and Spirits in downtown Hannibal, said they now close on Monday nights and often close down early on regular business days when it gets slow. She agrees that winter preparation is necessary all year long.
“You have to prepare and think about it. Winter is on your mind all summer long when you are working,” she said.
Otten said some of their full-time employees look ahead to winter and treat the season like a construction worker by living on less through the summer while putting away funds for the winter.
“It’s almost like a layoff because you’re getting a cut on your salary so if you do it right you are making the same all year if you allow for it,” she said. “Plus, we double in capacity when the patio is open but when that closes, we don’t need several of the servers.”
Finn’s hires a lot of students as servers, and Otten said it works well because many only want to work during the peak seasons. This alleviates the concern of letting staff go during the winter.
Although it is something she prepares for throughout the year, in some ways Otten welcomes the slow down after the busy Christmas season, as they tend to do their spring cleaning in the winter.
“It gives us time to catch up on the things,” she said. “It also gives us a chance to spend more time at home.”
This winter they are working on menu changes, which will include new food items along with retaining old favorites. She also said they are also working on building improvements that will be unveiled at a later date.
Even with the cold weather benefits she mentioned, Otten said she hopes people will find their way to downtown Hannibal this winter because there is still so much to offer even in the cold months.
“Just come on down because during the winter it’s almost like people avoid downtown Hannibal,” she said. “Everyday we offer catfish. It’s a big seller and if you haven’t tried it, you definitely should.”
For Mississippi Marketplace, Studer said it’s a prime time for them to move leftover Christmas inventory out of the store. They will be running a sale next week, and she hopes people will come help empty the shelves while she is away gathering new items to fill them.
“We don’t like to look at the same stuff and neither does anybody else, so it’s super important for people to come down,” she said. “We want to make it a great experience for people to come down, so we work to make sure we always have something to offer.”
Studer said shopping downtown is actually doing more than just supporting the shop owners and employees. Many downtown businesses sell the products of other small business vendors around the state.
Java Jive, the popular coffee spot on North Main, has shelves displaying local authors and other products, while Pudd’N Heads features many handmade items from people around the area. Mississippi Marketplace has three shelves dedicated to local vendors.
“We got a grant this last year from the Missouri Department of Ag for promoting Missouri made products. We are always on the search for new Missouri vendors,” Studer said. “We have one section of our shelves, three are right next to each other and dedicated to Missouri and we have started branching out into Illinois as well.”
According to Studer, downtown Hannibal is worth a visit no matter the season.
“Hannibal has a lot that’s changing right now; there’s more entertainment and more places for people to be social,” she said. “It’s a great place and it’s getting better.”