Cultural Connection: Urban Core Development Reinvigorates Small Businesses

Small businesses are the heartbeat of America. In Lincoln specifically, business owners are continuing to find ways to welcome people into their stores and restaurants, encouraging them to shop local and support Nebraska’s economy.

The urban core of Lincoln is changing. What was once mainly a business hub, is slowly transforming into an urban neighborhood that people want to live and work in.  

“Downtown is experiencing massive growth in its residential population, which has grown from 3,000 to a potential 10,000 residents after planned construction,” said Todd Ogden, president and CEO of the Downtown Lincoln Association. “Due to the changing nature of our urban core, our residents and patrons continue to look for more experiential and residential services. We are seeing a trend of businesses that are adding activities to create a destination for people to want to be a part of.”

Overcoming Challenges

The last few years took a toll on small businesses everywhere, and while Lincoln businesses are bouncing back, there are still challenges. 

Barb Ballard, owner of From Nebraska Gift Shop, noted that the labor shortage has impacted her business. 

Storefront of clothing boutique Tsuru, locatednear 14th and O streets in Lincoln. (Courtesy of Tsuru)
Storefront of clothing boutique Tsuru, located
near 14th and O streets in Lincoln. (Courtesy of Tsuru)

“Like many other local businesses, we find that employees, especially part-time employees are increasingly harder to find. Hours usually covered by part-timers now have to be worked by full-timers that have altered start times to work evening and weekend hours.”

Matel Rokke, owner of Tsuru, said that her experience has been similar. 

- Advertisement -

“Finding people that really fit your brand can also be a difficult task when there are not as many people looking for work,” she said. “We have found offering competitive wages and bonuses is a huge asset.”

Inflation and rising costs have also been difficult to navigate. 

“The trend I am continuing to see again and again is just the continued increase in the cost of doing business at every step,” shared Alicia Reisinger, founder and creative director for Wax Buffalo Pure Soy Candles. “From the products we use to shipping these products to us, the increase is felt across the entire industry (and frankly not just ours).”

“Right now, I would say inflation is a huge factor,” said Peggy Gomez, owner of Gomez Art Supply. “The prices of the materials I purchase have and continue to go up. I cannot keep raising my prices, so on many items, I am not getting my usual keystone markup.”

Continuing to Thrive

Despite challenges that are unique to this time in history, Lincoln businesses are thankful for the support that locals provide.  

“Nebraskans are incredibly loyal, and we’ve seen an increase in customers choosing to send local items to family and friends,” Ballard said. “We doubled our square footage during COVID. We had plans to expand into a space vacated by another retailer next door before the pandemic and with faith, we continued those plans.”

Rokke said that steady growth is on the horizon for her small business.

“Lincoln is a wonderful community with a lot of pride in shopping small and supporting local businesses,” she said. “Being surrounded by other local, woman-owned businesses is a great place to be. We have continued to see yearly growth and try to staff accordingly. I’ve always loved Lincoln, but more specifically, our location downtown. We are surrounded by local businesses that really make the town a unique and fun place to live. Nothing around here is cookie-cutter…I hope Lincoln continues to support the small businesses that make this town what it is.”

Wax Buffalo’s botanical collection (Courtesy of Wax Buffalo Pure Soy Candle Co.)
Wax Buffalo’s botanical collection
(Courtesy of Wax Buffalo Pure Soy Candle Co.)

Gomez, who will celebrate 20 years of being in business this summer, said that her location in the Parrish Building has been great. She attributed the supportive business environment in Lincoln as a factor. She often hosts events with her business neighbors and the Downtown Lincoln Association has also shown significant support. 

The close-knit nature of Nebraskans is an incredible asset for small business owners in Lincoln, and it’s something that many of them are banking on for their continued success. 

“‘Nebraska Nice’ is a real thing and the sense of community that comes with that sentiment is palpable,” explained Reisinger. “People in Nebraska, and even more specifically in Lincoln, genuinely want to see each other succeed and we will do what we can to support and lift each other up. 

“But we’re also a culture that knows what it means to hustle and work hard and we’re not afraid to dig in and get a little dirty while doing it! I truly believe our community is committed to promoting and supporting small businesses, entrepreneurship, and economic growth. Whether that means support from the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, or the Downtown Lincoln Association, or the humans who kindly support and love on us by shopping locally…overall, I think Lincoln is a great place for small businesses to thrive and grow.”

Gomez Art Supply team From left, Peggy Gomez, Amanda Durig, Toan Vuong, Keith Buswell (Courtesy of Peggy Gomez)
Gomez Art Supply team From left, Peggy Gomez,
Amanda Durig, Toan Vuong, Keith Buswell (Courtesy of Peggy Gomez)

Ogden encourages locals to remain committed to shopping locally. 

“As a community, we need to continue to find ways to support our small businesses, as they are the secret ingredient in making our city special,” he said.