Local merchants closing shop

By Charles Ratliff

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Packing up their beer mugs and bagels, two local businesses closed their doors last week to UA students for good.

After more than 12 years of serving the campus community, Mike's Place on East University Boulevard shut down Nov. 20.

Cindy Darego, owner of Mike's Place, said several factors contributed to the closing of the restaurant.

"Business hadn't really picked up at all since the beginning of fall," Darego said. Add the construction of the hotel to the west of the Marshall Foundation's parking lot and the closing of Tyndall Avenue, and Darego said her business' visibility greatly decreased.

Owner Larry Orenstein closed the Bagelry's doors on North Park Avenue last week.

Orenstein was unavailable for comment.

Sharon Hines, owner of Kippy's on Park Avenue and president of the Campus Merchants Association, said she fears Kippy's may soon shut down as well.

"I don't know if we're going to be around after Christmas," Hines said.

Merchants are saying the drop in local business can be attributed to the University of Arizona's All Aboard card. Earlier this semester, the university formed a committee to address owners' concerns that off-campus businesses be allowed access to the All Aboard card.

Hines said the privatization of the Park Student Center also contributed to the problem.

She said the UA leased the center to Aramark, a food service management company, who in turn leased space inside the center to small businesses. Businesses in the Park Student Center are allowed access to the university's All Aboard card, but students cannot use the card at university-area merchants.

Some merchants say the UA is dragging its feet in incorporating an off-campus debit card.

Hines said business is down 50 to 75 percent since the beginning of fall semester, and with high rent and utilities, it's getting tough just to open her doors every day.

She said she has owned other businesses in the past and has owned Kippy's for a year and a half.

"It's not that we don't know how to do (business)," Hines said, "we just can't do it here."

Mike Rukasin, owner of University Drug on the corner of University Boulevard and Park Avenue, said he has seen other stores go out of business.

"They were all good, thriving businesses," he said.

Rukasin said area stores complement each other. Foot traffic from customers eating at restaurants in the area help non-food type stores. But, he said, it's not enough to compete with the university.

"You'll see more businesses going out around here," Rukasin said. "You can probably use your imagination and figure out who won't be around much longer."

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