Are frequent street closures harming downtown business?
Some retailers think so
Sunday, May 4, 2014
As Jefferson City’s downtown grows and attracts more events, as well as more people, growing pains are starting to have an effect on High Street businesses.
The events have grown in recent years, and more have been added as growth continues. Last week, the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau announced the addition of two new events that involve street closures of High Street: a rolling Midwest motorcycle rally called the Hot Bike Power tour, set for August, and an all-Mustang car festival called Shelbyfest, scheduled for April 2015.
But not everyone is excited to see the season return. Some business owners, while supportive of the events in general, say they see no reason why downtown events have to close off High Street, the main street that includes the majority of retail businesses in the downtown core.
Judy Howard, owner of Saffee’s, said street closures on East High Street create a barrier for her customers. Howard said her customers are not people attending events who decide to stop in, but are “destination” shoppers who are specifically coming downtown to shop at Saffee’s. When the streets are closed, she said, people get confused on how to get to the store.
Howard said by moving the events to Capitol Avenue or McCarty Street, the same level of activity and interest can be generated in downtown without interfering with retail businesses.
“Take it down a block,” Howard said of the events that cause closures. “It’s the customer that’s shopping that we have to worry about.”
Tina Cole, owner of Xchange Boutique, said she likes having events downtown and believes it does help the exposure to her store, but when the street is closed, her sales are down for the day.
“I never like when they close the street,” Cole said. “I’m all for things coming downtown, but the retail is only two blocks … downtown is not just the 100 and 200 blocks of High Street.
“It’s a little unfair to us.”
But Cole said the effect on her business largely depends on the type of event being held. She said while she enjoyed watching the Color Vibe, and the event gave her business great exposure, her sales were cut in half that day.
“It actually did hurt us,” Cole said.
Rachel Gibson, owner of Downtown Diner, said when the street is closed, it’s hardly worth being open for business.
“Especially if they have (food) vendors,” Gibson said. “It really hurts me.”
Gibson said many of her customers are older, and they like being able to park close to the diner on the weekends. When the roads are closed, she said they likely go somewhere else to eat.
“Sunday is my biggest day of the week,” Gibson said. “It just kills me.”
Jim Dyke, owner of Cottonstone Gallery & Frame Shop and employee of the News Tribune, has been promoting a new location for downtown events that would take place along Capitol Avenue and Madison Street, where those streets would be closed, allowing High Street to remain open.
But not all downtown businesses see an issue with the street closings. Stephanie Bell, president of the Downtown Association, said some events may be good for some types of businesses and not as good for others.
“As far as I’m aware of, there isn’t any business owner that is universally against street closures or universally for street closures,” Bell said in an email. “Different events affect different businesses differently.”
Taisir Yanis, owner of Yanis Coffee Zone, said at first he was against downtown street closures. But after deciding to enjoy the events with his family, he said he started supporting them.
“That’s how much fun it was,” Yanis said. “People are enjoying these events.”
Evening events don’t have much of an effect on Yanis’ business, as his store closes at 3:30 p.m. But the Saturday morning events have helped his business, he said.
“The Color Vibe was outstanding for us,” Yanis said.
Yanis said the growing events are evidence of how far the downtown has come. He said 10 years ago the downtown was dead to the point where he contemplated closing his business. To have up to 4,000 people coming downtown to attend events, he said, is only a good thing for businesses that helps increase people’s exposure to what businesses are downtown.
“You need crowds to make money,” Yanis said. “Don’t mess with something going perfect.”
Carrie Tergin, owner of Carrie’s Hallmark Shop, said downtown events draw more people to the area and help increase exposure to businesses, even if sales don’t necessarily increase on the day of the event.
“It’s just great any time we can bring people downtown,” Tergin said. “You can’t look at a few hours of an event. You have to look at the big picture.”
Tergin said as a business owner, being located downtown is a give-and-take proposition, but the events help get people in the habit of coming downtown. Tergin said it can be difficult because the downtown has to balance interests of residents, offices, restaurants and retailers, but that is what makes it a vibrant place.
“That’s part of the whole dynamic of what makes our downtown great,” Tergin said. “It’s a fluid, dynamic place of energy and excitement.”
Jill Bednar, owner of Southbank Gift Company, said she definitely sees a boost to her business from downtown events, noting she even opened early for the recent Color Vibe.
“I chose to be downtown because … it’s the heart of our community,” Bednar said. “I like being here for that reason. That’s why I’m here and not in a strip mall.”
Bednar said she believes downtown events bring attention to the area and attracts people who may not regularly visit downtown, who then may come back to shop. She said she tries to educate her customers about upcoming events to combat any issues with street closures and parking. Overall, she said, the advantages of being downtown far outweigh any disadvantages of street closures and downtown events.
“I think it’s awesome,” Bednar said.
Bell said the events that cause street closures on High Street can’t simply be moved for multiple reasons, including power usage considerations and the designated areas for temporary outdoor consumption districts, also known as festival districts.
“There are reasons you can’t just move them,” Bell said.
Bell pointed to the city ordinance allowing for temporary outdoor consumption of alcohol, which defines the downtown festival district as being High Street, from Jefferson Street to Monroe Street; Madison Street, from Wall Way to Commercial Way; and Commercial Way from 100 feet west of Madison Street to 200 feet east of Madison Street.
But the ordinance also includes that any other areas may be designated as festival districts if approved by the city administrator “upon such conditions as the city administrator may deem appropriate.”
Bell said another issue would be whether there is support from the Governor’s Mansion to move the events so close to the mansion, as well as the Capitol Police and the nearby churches that often hold weekend events.
“There’s just a lot of questions,” Bell said.
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