In a town of just over 2,500 people stands seven bars, all open for business and all just a hop, skip and a jump away from each other. Upon driving into Proctor, Minn., there sits an old wooden sign with the phrase, “You have a place in Proctor.” The joke around town is that the motto should instead be, “You have a barstool in Proctor.” With just six of the bars located on one street alone it appears there is a lot of truth to this statement.
According to the Proctor Community Profile provided by the State of Minnesota, the job growth rate in 2010 was -1.42 percent. However, Diana Colt, math professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth and owner of the Railway Pizzeria and Bar in Proctor, says the economy has actually had a positive effect on the Railway.
“Our numbers every month continue to be up from the previous year’s comparable month,” says Colt.
She says there has been an increase in profits, but that it’s not necessarily due to the economy. When Colt bought the Railway from a friend a few years ago the business completely switched gears. It took on a total remodel and full liquor license, new menu and daily drink specials.
Implementing specials is one of the ways bars in Proctor are trying to offset the poor economy and stimulate growth. The Keyboard Lounge introduced daily specials for the first time since they opened 14 years ago. They also bought a jukebox machine to appeal to younger generations.
The Tailgate Bar and Grill, also in Proctor, has adopted the same method of trying to attract a younger crowd by redecorating and adding food specials such as “Taco Tuesday.”
According to the 2010 Proctor Demographics report from Applied Geographic Solutions, 20 to 29-year-olds make up 23 percent of the total population in Proctor, more than any other age distribution. Therefore, aiming advertisement efforts such as “College Nights” at this age group is a popular tactic.
Another approach Colt has taken is making Facebook events for special nights at the Railway such as St. Patrick’s Day or team appreciation parties. Often there are additional specials and live music. Colt says that she thinks this is working.
“All you can do is advertise things that people want, which are deals,” says Colt. “Keep convincing them that their dollar gets them quality food and drinks at a reasonable price and they’ll keep coming back.”
Through all of this Colt has also been able to keep the establishment family-oriented.
“The people who used to eat at fancier places are now giving the Railway a try because they’ve heard through the grapevine that it’s more reasonably priced.”
Households are still spending a good portion of money on going out. According to Proctor’s Consumer Spending Report for 2010, 47 percent of consumer expenditures for food and alcoholic beverages came from outside the home. Per household in 2010, consumers spent more on alcoholic beverages than childcare, household supplies, gifts, and personal care products.
Colt says trying to keep an optimal balance of prices and profits is extremely difficult.
“You want to keep prices low so people can afford it, but you also have to pay your bills or you’ll shut your doors anyway,” she says. “Customers don’t realize the overhead associated in the bar and restaurant business. Vendors add fuel surcharges when gas prices are high, like now, and when there’s a freeze down south suddenly things like tomatoes cost ten times what they usually do. Balancing this is hard.”
While the economy may not be affecting Colt’s business negatively, it is having an impact on her personal life.
“I invested in a lot of real estate during the ‘boom’ and it all went down in value considerably along with rental rates,” Colt says. “This resulted in having to get rid of pretty much all of it at a loss.”
While the economy has had positive effects for some of the bars in Proctor, that is not the case for every establishment. For now, though, you will still have a barstool at the Railway.
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