Three months ago, when Kay Prescher opened up Lava Java in the Mankato Place Mall, she was hoping her coffee shop/lunch spot could fill a niche in the downtown lunch milieu.
Then, a funny thing happened. Business sorta boomed.
“It’s been better than we expected,” said Prescher, looking back on her first three months of business.
And then, a not so funny thing happened.
Lava Java, which feeds dozens of hungry state workers every day from a handful of mall-based state government offices, suddenly had a lot fewer people stepping up for noon time soups, wraps and pulled pork sandwiches.
“We noticed it immediately,” Prescher said.
The state government shutdown is now more than a week old. The Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton remain at an impasse over how to proceed with a new budget. Republicans want to hold spending to whatever revenue is brought in. Dayton and Democrats want to increase revenue by raising income taxes on Minnesotans earning more than $1 million annually.
As the sides dig in and stick to their principles, Lava Java is dealing with about a 25 percent drop in business, and Prescher feels helpless.
“It is frustrating. We want to improve the downtown,” she said. “As a small business owner, you’re already putting yourself out there, and this is completely out of my control.”
Across the mall hall, Buffalo Wild Wings General Manager Todd Joyal said his business also feels the effects of fewer state workers.
“Obviously it hurts our lunch crowd,” Joyal said.
But he admitted an established business such as Buffalo Wild Wings, which has been around since the mid 1990s in Mankato, isn’t as vulnerable to the effects of the shutdown as his small competitor, Lava Java.
Prescher sends out a daily e-mail to customers who sign up for it that tells subscribers about lunch specials and the soup of the day.
A good chunk of those are getting immediate out-of-office replies that begin with, “Due to the state government shutdown ...”
Beyond the immediate issue of lunch customers, Lava Java has been hit another way. Prescher said they’ve been planning to expand the business into the adjacent business, which will be vacating soon, she said. Their plans are to use that space to create a wine bar.
But to do that, they need to acquire a state license that will allow them to purchase alcohol from distributors.
They’d initially planned on proceeding with that by September, but now that has been pushed back to October.
She hopes government leaders understand how much their inability to resolve the impasse is affecting small businesses.
“Why aren’t they working 24/7 until this is taken care of?” she wonders. “I don’t think they realize the trickle down impact.”