The economy has slowed for much of the county and the Olentangy area is no exception. Three area businesses, however, say they're holding their own and working in innovative ways to keep the doors open and the customers coming.

The economy has slowed for much of the county and the Olentangy area is no exception. Three area businesses, however, say they're holding their own and working in innovative ways to keep the doors open and the customers coming.

Taranto's Pizzeria

Taranto's Pizzeria, 1282 E. Powell Road, Lewis Center, opened almost 10 years ago, owner Debbie Taranto said.

Starting in February, weekly sales have decreased about $2,000 a week, she said, and she directly began looking at cutting costs.

"Immediately you cut labor costs," Taranto said. "I had 29 employees and so many of them lost hours. It's hard to do that because they become like family, but you have to."

For example, she's shaved a couple of hours from shifts and changed morning starting times from 8 to 9 a.m. She also eliminated three night shift workers by not replacing employees as they left. She did not hire summer help as she usually does, and froze wages.

Taranto also trimmed her energy expenses -- for example, by using one of the pizzeria's ovens rather than two.

She looks for competitive fees for advertising and for merchant services, companies that process credit card sales.

"Some people make the mistake and cut advertising," she said. "You can't do that."

Taranto also is a member of two barter associations: IMS Barter Network and Trade Exchange and ITEX Payment Systems.

"It's trading services to save cash," she said, noting that she has used the services for such works as electrical, HVAC, getting new table and chair covers and flowers for the store front.

Employees are also reminded to use the food scales to weigh ingredients.

"Cheese is like gold in the pizza business - very expensive," she said.

Nicole's for Children

A boutique for children, newborn to age 14, Nicole's is located in downtown Powell at 55 E. Olentangy St. It is in its third year of business.

"Things are going OK," said owner Nicole Toscano. "People are very conscientious about spending, but we're still growing."

The store offers unique lines of clothes, available only at boutiques, Toscano said, "items you can't find in other stores. It's fun for children to have their own look."

The store also carries toys, religious picture frames, Bibles, crosses and christening gowns.

"I also make sure to stock items in a wide price range because of the economy," Toscano said. "We have baby gifts as low as $10."

This year, Toscano is holding special sales as well as the usual end-of-season sales.

She's participating in a shopping campaign through Historic Downtown Powell, Inc., called Passport to Powell, said Anna Steck, executive director.

Merchant members of the organization are offering the program four times this year, Steck said. The next occurrence of the program is from Aug. 22-30.

Visitors to participating downtown merchants are given a card listing all those who participate in the program. After visiting 10 of the businesses listed, the cards can be turned in for a raffle drawing with a prize of $150 "downtown dollars" redeemable by these merchants, Steck said.

"I learned about the program at the National Main Streets," Steck said. "There are small downtowns that are struggling during this challenging economic time and we're forced to be creative."

It's working well because Powell has a variety of businesses, Steck said.

Toscano said participating in the passport program and other downtown events helps bring customers into the store.

Wedgewood Office Park

Wedgewood Office Park, 3751-3847 Attucks Drive in Liberty Township, held a grand opening of its first two buildings last September.

"Within days afterward, the world fell apart (economically)," said George Bergantz, vice president of the Benchmark Group in an e-mail. "While we had been leasing at a relatively steady pace since (last) August, during March all activity seemed to stop."

Bergantz said the company applied to Liberty Township for an extension of its development plan, "pushing the completion dates for the third, fourth and fifth buildings out by as long as three additional years." The township approved the request.

Crediting flexibility in the length of leases, in the size of offices and in the office amenities, Bergantz said things began to improve in April and May, and construction on the third building began.

"One of our advantages is that we are in the business of leasing office space," Bergantz said. "We are not in the office condo sales business. So when economic chaos and the credit crunch hit in the fall, some businesses pulled back from making long-term ownership commitments and are leasing instead."

During tough economic times, it's important for businesses to stay focused on what they do best, he said.

"There is a temptation to chase business and to stretch your principles when times are tough," Bergantz said. "We know we cannot be all things to all people and that our long-term success will be based on our ability to clearly communicate what we are good at doing, which is providing quality, affordable private office space in convenient locations."

The slowdown in the housing market has been advantageous for commercial construction, he said.

"Our single-story wood frame construction uses many of the same construction skills and trades used in the construction of single-family homes," Bergantz said. "With the downturn in the housing market, we have seen more competition for work. The housing downturn has also resulted in lower costs for building materials. Now is a good time to be building for the future."