By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Jan 19, 2009 at 3:49 PM

Sometimes, it's surprising when a local business shuts down. Not many, for instance, expected Heinemann's to go out of business so abruptly.

Other times, it's not surprising at all. In the world of and iTunes, it wasn't a question of "if" for places we loved, like Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops and Atomic Records -- it was a question of "when."

As a business owner, myself, I understand that when economic times get tough, we must either adapt or die. Most of us aren't fortunate enough to have a government bailout waiting if we can't meet payroll. We must tighten our belts, adjust our business model or go on and do something else.

So what I'm wondering today is what are the next, formerly untouchable Milwaukee businesses who will soon call it quits?

Full disclosure, I am both biased and journalistically challenged by even writing this blog. I shouldn't predict specific businesses, since some of them might be current or future clients of ours, and I certainly don't want to help get the ball rolling on their demise -- or, selfishly, call out a business that is keeping us in business.

But I'll toss out a few sectors that I, as hardly an expert on the topic, think might be looking ahead at tough times. Readers can then chime in with specifics using the Talkback feature, telling me where I got it right and where I got it wrong. Additionally, please tell us what local businesses are recession proof, as Bobby Tanzilo blogged about this morning.

Local print media: Times aren't good for many of the companies that produce local newspapers and print magazines. Advertising budgets have shrunk and have shifted to other media, and many print publications carry huge staffing, production and distribution overheads. Only a select few have figured out how to monetize the transition to selling advertising online. The rest continue to treat the Web like the Black Plague.

Banks: Everyone knows about banks' woes. Some in Milwaukee are showing record losses. How does the economy affect both big bank chains and little mom-and-pop institutions with just one or two branches?

Local big-box stores: Circuit City is closing and liquidating its assets, so what does that mean for the locally-owned appliance and electronic stores, where prices are higher than what's online or at Best Buy -- and customer service is actually about the same? Will offers of free bikes and vacuums make a difference anymore?

Car dealerships: Who will be the first major car dealership to go out of business? With unsold inventory clogging up their sprawling lots in high-rent districts across town, the economy will take down at least a couple dealers, right?

Locally-owned movie theaters: Movies are still big business, even in economically-challenging times.  But for the theaters that aren't part of huge chains, can they cut it? Will art and indie films become a casualty of the economy?

Minor-league sports franchises / small theater groups: The Brewers, the Bucks and the Rep aren't going anywhere, but what about the other teams and theater venues in town? During a recession, will enough fans come out and support hockey, soccer and football teams? Will they get behind Milwaukee's wonderful community theaters and keep them solvent to pay their athletes' / actors' salaries? Or are sports and the arts those kind of sectors in which die-hard fans will keep them going at any cost?

Local online businesses: The days when small dot-com companies could effectively compete with Amazon, Google and Yahoo have largely disappeared. While "hyper-local" is still a major asset in the online world, gigantic companies can always outspend their "boutique-y" counterparts, particularly in the classifieds space. Bigger isn't necessarily better, but it doesn't usually hurt, either. (Have no fear, fans of, we're doing just fine.)

Obviously, I hope I'm wrong about these predictions, and it's the consumer who can step and save these businesses.  It's not our job to prop up companies that don't do what it takes to stay in business. But when great Milwaukee companies shut down, eventually we all lost out.

Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.