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October 30, 2014

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New Water Street businesses hope to weather economic tides

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Heather Cory

Chef Flemming Pederson adds the finishing touch to his tarts by adding apricots and pears at Chef Flemming’s Bake Shop. Located in the Water Street District, Pederson opened his bakery about four months ago.

Chef Flemming's Bake Shop

Working in the early morning, Flemming Pederson prepares basked goods at his bakery, Chef Flemming's Bake Shop. Launch slideshow »

Blog: Home, Sweet Henderson

Beyond the Sun

With a country battered by a recession and Henderson's Water Street District lined with empty storefronts, two new downtown businesses are hoping their personal touches will help them succeed.

The owners of Chef Flemming's Bake Shop and Henderson Hobbies upended their personal lives and undertook the financial risks to open new businesses, and both were beset by unforeseen obstacles before opening last fall.

Chef Flemming Pedersen, 53, left behind his career on the Strip, counting on new development along Water Street which has yet to materialize.

Ed Iulo, 70, came out of retirement to open his store and had to dip into his savings after he was unable to obtain loans to stock his store. And hobbyists who promised to man the shop have yet to show up, he said.

For 25 years, Flemming Pedersen has lived in Henderson, working as a pastry chef in seven hotels and as a culinary instructor at the Art Institute of Las Vegas. It was growing difficult to retain a job in an industry that prized youth over experience, he said. So in September 2008, he took over a Water Street bakery, re-christening it Chef Flemming's Bake Shop.

"I always wanted to own my own business," Pedersen said. "I admired people that had the guts to do it."

But the joyous occasion for him was tempered by the knowledge he received a week after opening: two mixed use projects slated for Water Street had been postponed. He had been banking on the residential/business developments breaking ground that fall.

"I'm not blaming anybody," he said. "Maybe I should've done more homework. I'm hoping to weather the storm."

He believes his shop's personal appeal and unique offerings will help him hold on. Pedersen learned his craft in his native Denmark and will celebrate "Danish Day" every first Saturday with traditional offerings from his birthplace. He hopes that with people eating in more, they will decide to spring for a nice dessert.

"We use real butter," he said. "Nothing is imitation here. I hope people appreciate that."

He also encourages patrons to make special requests. He wants customers to depend on him for their dinner parties, weddings and other special events.

To buoy the business, Pedersen has also been seeking clients in restaurants, and said he will be supplying the soon-to-open Mocha Joe's up the street.

The economic anxiety has resulted in him losing 30 pounds since opening the bakery. His wife's mural painting business has also softened, he said, and she and culinary interns from the Art Institute of Las Vegas have helped run the store.

"I wish I could shut it off, but I can't," Pedersen said of his worries.

Up the street, Iulo is hoping for more customers as well. One recent morning, patrons from as far away as North Las Vegas stopped by to exchange witty banter, but ultimately left with nothing.

"It has to do well," Iulo said. "Everything in here has come out of my pocket. The banks are holding onto their money."

A former Teamsters truck driver, Iulo has been a Henderson resident for 10 years. Others encouraged him to open a hobby store in Henderson, he said, telling him that residents have to drive outside the city to indulge their pastimes. Iulo secured some inventory from a closed shop and settled on Water Street for the storefront and its clientele.

He proudly calls it an old-time neighborhood store, where people can come just to chat, and where he will order anything a customer wants. He said he even lets the homeless wander the aisles to escape the cold.

"We'll sell your husband the car of his dreams for under $50," Iulo said. "Times are tough. People are not going on vacation or buying cars, but they're doing things at home and doing things with their kids."

Customer Randy Proby backed this assertion.

"The two things that thrive during recessions are bars and hobby stores," he said. "With a little money comes a lot of enjoyment."

Henderson Redevelopment Manager Michelle Romero acknowledged that businesses along Water Street are struggling, but noted the city can assist with low-interest loans and grants for facade improvements. The city also brings in business consultants who have given seminars on how to survive in today's market.

"We have some very unique businesses," she said. "Many of them have been down there for a very long time, and they have loyal customers that continue to go to them. We think they will make it through."

Dave Clark can be reached at 990-2677 or [email protected].

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