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Some Dickinson businesses feel a chill with local economy in a state of adjustment, normalization

The wider context of the oil slowdown has changed the business climate of Dickinson, resulting in a chill for some and a more normalized pace for others.Wildcat Pizzeria, formerly located on the northwest side of Dickinson, closed abruptly about ...

The wider context of the oil slowdown has changed the business climate of Dickinson, resulting in a chill for some and a more normalized pace for others.
Wildcat Pizzeria, formerly located on the northwest side of Dickinson, closed abruptly about two weeks ago after losing a substantial amount of sales following the dip in the energy economy, according to store manager Brahian Hernandez.
However, Hernandez said the restaurant was only “pretty much surviving because it was new and still capturing attention” even during peak oil times and had been largely disorganized up until a few months ago.
Wildcat announced its closure through social media on Dec. 14, its very last day of business, and sold off its remaining stock at half-price.
By that evening, the restaurant had run out of pizza dough and various toppings as the waitstaff continued to move whatever was left - mainly chicken wings, though the buffalo sauce reserves had already been depleted.
Hernandez said the past two months had been especially poor in terms of sales.
“It’s tough to keep a business going if there’s no money to back it up,” he said.
While the economic shift of the region may reduce sales, as Hernandez noted, individual plans still affect the bottom line of a business’ presence.
Kristi Schwartz, president of the Downtown Dickinson Association, said she didn’t think downtown businesses were seeing the effect of the oil downturn.
While some businesses had left the area, Schwartz said she didn’t believe it was due to the city economy but rather “other factors that played into that,” such as the personal decisions of the respective owners.
She added that she saw “some momentum building” in downtown business investment, citing building renovations including the installation of the B2 Lounge at the Brickhouse Grille, the facade overhaul at Bernie’s Esquire Club and the ongoing remodelling of The Rock building.
Schwartz was optimistic about downtown business and said the continuation of events and programing downtown, such as Alive @ 5, as well as the establishment of more residential opportunities, was important for continued economic success in the area.
Overall, she said, downtown had not felt the brunt of the slowdown.
“I think as far as the downtown is concerned, that we’re not feeling the effects quite as much,” Schwartz said, admitting that she can’t speak to “individual businesses and what their sales are doing.”
Gaylon Baker, executive vice president of the Stark Development Corp., said that while his organization doesn’t focus on retail, he has heard things have slowed in that area.
With that said, he added, that slow is relative to the fast pace of the oil boom.
“People tend to forget what 2004 was like,” Baker said, comparing that year to the current situation. “People were happy then, they could see things were on the uptick. We were going through gradual, incremental growth and people were pretty happy with that. I think we’ll get back to that regime.”
Baker said unemployment is still below 3 percent in Stark County and, while the mix of employment options may be different than it was during the boom, there are still jobs available for those who want to live and work in the Dickinson area.
“People who consider Stark County their home will find work,” Baker said.
Economic sectors such as manufacturing and health care have stepped in as engines of hiring and production, he said.
Due to the continued low unemployment, he added, there has not yet been a wide pullback in wages from where they were in the past few years of high oil prices.
As time goes on, Baker said, the businesses that make up the local economy will continue to have to meet the needs of the reality in front of them, as influenced by the energy market.
“We’ve entered into partnership with a very volatile industry,” he said. “We, as a community and residents of the area, we know we’re going to have to roll with it.”
Baker added that he believed businesses are aware of that and are planning accordingly.
Jerry Cole, executive director of the Dickinson Chamber of Commerce, also underlined the need for sound planning among business owners and said that, from his vantage point, it looks like local business is still healthy.
He added that the Chamber has done “several ribbon cuttings” for new businesses in his four months here and said the current climate is one of returning to a more level plane from the “surge of business” the town experienced over the last few years.
“We’re going to find out what normal is in the next year or two,” Cole said. “Business will do well adjust to that.”
That adjustment will likely include a more inward-looking strategy of economic development, he predicts.
“The community will get back to a sense of place and not rely on all the outside influences,” Cole said. “You’re going to get back to Dickinson getting to the nucleus of what they do as a community.”
Haffner is a reporter at The Press. Contact him at 701-456-1206 or tweet him at ahaffner1.

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