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Downtown goal: Be shopping destination


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City leaders see downtown Columbus at a crossroads.

More than 3,000 employees have been added downtown in the past four years.

The area includes a revamped destination for dining and entertainment with the reconstructed Fourth Street completed this year.

And the downtown’s transformation has seen the addition of housing, including The Cole and Historic City Hall apartments and Jacksson Place condominiums.

Coming and going

Recent losses:

Imagination Station toy store: December

Scotty’s Burger Joint: December

The Fork at 532 restaurant:  January

Double Oak Farm: March

240 Sweet: March (moved to 9600 U.S. 31 North in Taylorsville)

Detour American Grille & Bar:  March

Ahlemeyer Farm Bakery: March (moved to 2034 17th St.)

O’Child children’s boutique:  May

 

Coming soon:

Yats Cajun/Creole restaurant: The Commons

Taku Japanese Steakhouse:  The Commons

Sogmo Della Terra bakery and cafe: 901 Washington St.

“We want to build on that momentum,” Mayor Kristen Brown said. “It’s natural with more consumers downtown that retail will continue to evolve and grow.”

A retail committee of the Columbus Arts District Coalition has taken up the challenge of looking at how to make downtown thriving.

Downtown has many law and other professional offices, but business leaders are working to see that downtown also keeps its local coffee shops, clothing stores, gift boutiques and art galleries.

Committee members have just begun assessing downtown retail, asking such questions as:

What empty storefronts exist and what type of businesses would residents want there?

How can the city expand on the success of the entertainment district to the downtown shopping area?

Can the downtown retail experience enhance the city’s arts district designation?

How can arts-related businesses be attracted?

“Once we identify the spaces we have available, we can put together a plan,” said Bob Anderson, owner of Stillframes Photography and a committee member. “We definitely want more retail and more arts-related retail.”

One idea being discussed is finding a location where multiple businesses could share space and costs, offsetting some of the startup costs for new “mom and pop” shops, Anderson said.

Vision for downtown

The mayor would like downtown to be a destination for the entire community and tourists. This will require developing marketing strategies and talking with current retailers to gather input and ideas.

Terry Whittaker, owner of Viewpoint Books, with his wife, Susan, started their business in 1973 in the old Commons Mall but moved in 2007 to 548 Washington St., taking with them loyal shoppers who preferred personal interaction over online shopping.

Terry Whittaker has seen downtown go through many changes but said one option to help recruit new businesses would be to hire someone, such as a downtown manager.

“We have to prioritize and attach a dollar amount to what we want to do and decide who would pay,” he said.

Jayne Farber, a city consultant who leads the arts district, talked to business owners and landlords during a Downtown Merchants Association meeting last week to begin gathering ideas.

The merchants said a big hurdle for new retailers is finding banking institutions willing to lend them money. They also said current retailers always have challenges with customer parking, especially with the increase in downtown

workers.

The additional employee base downtown, however, has greatly increased the amount of foot traffic and, in some cases, boosted sales this year.

Attracting shoppers

Lynne Hyatt, owner of Lockett’s Ladies Shop, said she loves more people milling around but is working on ways to get more of them into her store, especially young professionals. She moved her shop from 1202 Washington St. to 426 Washington last year.

She also would like to see more customers in stores beyond the downtown workers stopping in during lunch breaks or after work.

“There needs to be more reasons for people to come downtown,” she said.

As the number of retail shops increases, Hyatt suggests more prospective customers will see downtown as a shopping destination.

Shoppers have various opinions about what they would like downtown or even if having more shops would encourage them to do more shopping at smaller, independent stores.

Justin Kruer of Franklin has been working at Cummins Inc. downtown for about three years and shops at Dell Brothers men’s clothing store and Viewpoint Books occasionally. On Wednesday, he was having lunch on the patio at Savory Swine.

“I’d like to have a grocery store downtown. That’s the biggest need. Where do you go if you need something like an aspirin?” Kruer asked.

Debbie Bennett of Columbus stopped downtown Wednesday to have lunch with a friend but said she seldom does any shopping there.

“We really need some more retail, some variety,” Bennett said.

Jane Beaman of Indianapolis, who works at Cummins, said that even if new stores opened near her workplace, she probably wouldn’t have time to shop there.

After grabbing a Subway sandwich Wednesday during the noon hour, Beaman was heading back to work.

Max Carothers — owner of Max’s Jewelry Store and the building that houses his shop, Frame & Art and Gramz Bakery — said he remembers the days when downtown was a shopping hub. Carothers said downtown retail is unlikely to return to that type of environment because retail shopping has moved more to other areas of town. But he would like to see more stores along Washington Street.

When Deb Steele, owner of Gramz Bakery, 409 Washington St., announced she would be selling her business, Carothers wanted to fill the spot with another bakery even though he could have easily filled the storefront with a professional office. A new owner, Jay Cole of Columbus, has purchased the bakery and will take over operations this month.

Another new bakery and cafe, Sogmo Della Terra, owned by Melissa Ammon, will open at the end of the month at 901 Washington St. She has been a regular at the farmers markets and sold bread to area restaurants.

“Columbus has a mixed ethnic clientele who like my breads,” said Ammon, who specialties include artisan breads and pastries.

Changing environment

Jim Casey’s jewelry shop at 326 Fourth St. has provided the longtime business owner a key vantage point to observe changes in downtown Columbus.

His small shop — filled with watches, wedding rings, necklaces and gift items — is neatly wedged in the middle of the revitalized Fourth Street entertainment district.

Once bustling with retail shops and a downtown mall filled with stores, the central business district’s bustle today comes primarily from office workers during the day and diners in the evenings.

“What we need now is more places to shop,” said Casey, a jeweler downtown for 41 years.

Jeff Baker, owner of Baker’s Fine Gifts & Accessories, has operated his shop at 433 Washington St. for 29 years.

Baker has seen his business increase this year as the economy has picked up, but he credits his store’s longevity to providing good customer service and showing an interest in newcomers to town. Providing that personal touch can be what sets apart shopping downtown or at any independent store, shop owners say.

Many downtown residents and workers have said they would like to have a grocery store or a pharmacy

downtown.

SaraBeth Drybread, of the Columbus Food Co-Op, said the organization has been negotiating for a downtown site since December but could not yet provide any details.

The grocery would focus on foods purchased from local farmers but also sell other items. The co-op has 700 members, although anyone would be able to shop at the store.

Although one of the busiest retail areas downtown currently falls around The Commons area in the 400 and 500 blocks of Washington Street, the mayor would like to see more business generated north of there, where more shops are located.

Plans for apartments between Sixth and Seventh streets could help pull more retail shoppers to the area that houses That Special Touch, Viewpoint Books, Beads de Colores and Hoosier Sporting Goods.

‘People don’t know I’m here’

The area already has been busier in recent months with the addition of Joe Willy’s Burger Bar at 11th and Washington streets and the expansion of Zwanzigz Pizza at 11th and Lafayette.

Terry Kutsko, owner of That Special Touch bridal shop at 544 Washington St., said current merchants sometimes run into the challenge of just having people aware of their location downtown.

“I’ve been here eight years, and some people don’t even know I’m here,” Kutsko said.

When Imagination Station toy store closed in December, owners Craig and Julie Wells said sales were not strong enough to keep going.

Parking also was a problem on top of the issues creating by road closures created by the Fourth Street construction last summer and fall.

Now that road construction has been complete for the past seven months, retailers are breathing a sign of relief. They also are noticing an increase from the number of additional workers downtown.

Mike Bodart, owner of Hoosier Sporting Goods, 611 Washington St., said he has seen an increase in the number of shoppers in the past year. He thinks the economy also has improved enough to boost sales.

Commercial Realtor Brian Russell, who is assisting the city in finding a restaurant for the former Scotty’s restaurant location in The Commons, said he believes the Columbus downtown is special on several fronts.

“It has a growing office space. It has a diverse offering of living accommodations, and it has expanding entertainment options with the addition of new restaurants,” Russell said.

Hyatt said she is hopeful that the busy downtown will translate to a good environment for retailers. “There’s just a richness downtown that makes us unique,” she said.

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