This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Ashley Patterson opened The Green Building Center in Salt Lake City just as the Wasatch Front real estate market and the trend toward eco-friendly building and remodeling were starting to take off.
Today, seven years later, the "green" movement still has some momentum. But the same can't be said for the real estate boom, which ended abruptly in 2007.
"Our sales growth started to level off in the summer of 2008, and by October, sales just plummeted," she said.
With building and remodeling activity down for the third consecutive year, Patterson said she had no choice but to close her eco-friendly home-supply business at 1952 E. 2700 South. Last fall, she had already closed a Park City location that opened in May 2008.
There's no doubt her business was hurt by the real estate downturn in Utah, which is one of the state's worst ever. For example, more than 15,400 permits for new-home construction were taken out in 2006, at the market's height. Last year's total was only about 4,400 even with state and federal incentives designed to help boost the real estate market.
Patterson's business, which catered to residential and commercial builders and remodelers, also was hurt by the much-tighter lending criteria put in place after the nation's foreclosure crisis. Many people simply cannot tap their home equity any longer to remodel kitchens, put in new flooring and other major interior home-improvement projects she supplied.
To make matters worse, many eco-friendly building supplies are more expensive than traditional materials.
Like many entrepreneurs, Patterson took out some loans to not only start but to expand her business. A home equity loan, in fact, helped launch the now defunct Park City location.
In terms of her finances, "It's pretty ugly right now," she says.
Matt Monson, state coordinator of the Local First Utah initiative in Salt Lake City, which encourages people to buy locally made products and services, said small retailers of all kinds have been affected by the real estate downturn, as well as shifts in how consumers spend their money.
"Many people think, 'It's a recession, I have no choice but to take my money to a discount big-box retailer,' " he said.
Monson knows that shift too well. As the owner of a small apparel shop specializing in locally made clothing, he watched as chain stores, such as Forever 21, American Apparel and Urban Outfitters, stepped up efforts in the recession with price-cutting and other promotions.
Monson, whose business was located at 247 E. Broadway (300 South), said by 2009, his sales had declined dramatically.
"Forever 21, American Apparel, Urban Outfitters they all opened within less than a two-mile radius from me," he said.
Like Patterson, he has since left the world of entrepreneurship. He was able to sell his business, which now is located in the Salt Lake City Main Library. He works for Local First Utah and also has a teaching job.
Patterson officially closed the doors of her business on Sept. 30. Since then, she has been packing up and dealing with the financial entities that financed her company, vendors who want to be paid and others.
"It's hard not to be bitter when you see these banks who are a big reason why we had this crisis … and they are making money while small businesses are going under left and right," she says.
But she says she also feels fortunate to have been hired as outreach and education coordinator for the University of Utah's Office of Sustainability, a job that enables her to continue her efforts to help the world become a bit more "green," and one that provides a steady income and health coverage.
She says she knows a lot of other people have had their lives ruined by the real estate and economic downturn. And scores of others have lost jobs or are unsuccessfully looking for new ones.
"I'm trying to look on the bright side," she says. "I have a great job. And for that, I feel really lucky."