Wall Street woes hit Hip Strip 

Jamie Lawrence tried her best to avoid becoming an example. But despite her efforts, the owner of Last Best Candles says she’s proof that Wall Street’s recent woes will impact Main Street, U.S.A.

“Seriously, it’s been this theme song bouncing through my head the last two weeks,” says Lawrence of the Wall Street to Main Street refrain. “I know it’s a cliché, but it’s actually true. Sad, but true.”

Lawrence decided this week that her small storefront will close Dec. 31. She’s been open for two years.

“I’ve done everything right with my business and everything I’m supposed to do, and I’m still failing,” says Lawrence. “What’s the point of starting a small business if really all you’re doing is completely destroying yourself?”

Lawrence says she opened Last Best Candles with a home equity line of credit and an American Express card that’s now full of business expenses. She’s at least $33,000 in debt and in danger of losing her house.

“I’m really close to filing for bankruptcy,” she says. “There may be a miracle happening today, but that would just keep me out of bankruptcy. The store will still close. I can’t keep killing myself for $20 [profit] a day.”

Lawrence explains her daily breakeven point is just $85. Even that’s been difficult to reach lately, despite cutting back operating costs and moving last year to a new location at 837 S. Higgins Avenue that affords her more space for less rent. 

“We had a great tourist trade last year,” says Lawrence. “At Christmas, I said as long as I can make it to May I’ll be okay, but then nothing happened. It completely dropped off this summer.”

Other downtown business owners recognized a similar dip. Kim Klages Johns, owner of J. Elaine’s Boutique and a longtime Missoula Downtown Association board member, says this has been the slowest year since her store opened in 1995. 

“I’d say it’s been a noticeable downward trend with no seasonal bumps,” says Johns, who adds her store’s future is solid. “September for me has always been a very close second to my holiday months and this year I’ve seen none of that.”

For Lawrence, that slump meant Last Best Candles had to close.

“The thing is, I’m not the only one,” she says. “I know that more small businesses are on the verge of closing. It’s not good.”
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