Downtown business owners optimistic as holiday season approaches

Published 8:39 am Monday, December 4, 2017

Downtown Danville felt a bit more quiet this fall since the closing of five businesses in July and August, according to Wendy White, owner of Plank on Main.

Fewer businesses may lead to less foot traffic, but most downtown business owners are expecting a strong Christmas season and are hopeful the downtown thrives for years to come, despite the popularity of online shopping.

Speaking as a board member of the Danville-Boyle County Convention and Visitors Bureau at its meeting Tuesday, White told the group, “You would think (the closures) would bring more folks’ business to those that still exist, but it just is slower and less people were coming down and milling about” during the fall season.

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Jennifer Kirchner, executive director of the CVB wrote in an email that even though it was “a busy fall on many fronts this year … I think the remaining vacancies in some of our buildings have contributed to less activity downtown. The loss of two downtown restaurants has also been felt.”

At the meeting, White expressed a similar feeling: “Gosh, you can feel it, really feel it, without Cue being there.”

In July and August of this year, Art of Danville, Pies for You and Cookies Too, Nellie Burton’s Sports Bar and Steakhouse, Cue on Main and Main Street Furniture all closed.

However, Bluegrass and Buttercream has since opened in the space previously used by Pies for You, and a new restaurant — Harvey’s — which is planned to open soon in the old Nellie Burton’s location. A third business — Ruby’s Boutique — has also opened a Main Street storefront. And there are other positive signs for downtown, as well.

At the recent Shop Small Saturday event, which included the opening of a temporary ice skating rink near the courthouse and Christmas parade, among other activities, White said, “It was packed and really nice to see. Hopefully we will ramp up when we start to repopulate (the empty downtown buildings.)”

Nick Wade, executive director of The Heart of Danville said his office was busy organizing fall events and planning special activities for the holidays, so he didn’t have the perception of slowing business in the fall. However, he did hear from several downtown business owners they felt it was a slower than normal fall season.

Julie Nelson, owner of Maple Tree Gallery, said she didn’t really notice a slow fall season, and “we’ve had a terrific start to our holiday season.” She felt like the Shop Small Saturday event was the busiest she’s experienced in five years.

“I feel positive and confident in our downtown community,” Nelson said. “I think the community is showing their love and support and they are thankful we (downtown businesses) are still here.”

Ann Clay Harris, owner of A&L Accessories, said she thinks fall business may have been little slow, but downtown activity is picking up now. She agreed that Shop Small Saturday was “huge” and Black Friday was “great.”

She said when new businesses fill downtown’s empty spaces, “that will entice people to come downtown more to eat and shop.”

Kirchner said, “We clearly have some valuable and critical real estate in downtown that needs to be developed and filled.” She said there is momentum right now to recruit more businesses and possibly a small hotel and add downtown living options. 

She said additional events are also being planned to bring people into the heart of downtown.

“I am optimistic about this holiday season as it has already been off to a great start,” Kirchner said.

Wade said he is impressed at how quickly the empty spaces have already begun filling. 

“I really, truly am excited. I think it’s a great thing for downtown, and will benefit all businesses,” Wade said. 

For example, someone may pop in for a cupcake, then decide to stroll down the street or around the corner to other retail shops, Wade said.

A new business owner on Main Street has faith that the downtown area will continue to thrive.

Ruby’s Boutique opened on Nov. 3 on the block between Second and Third streets, selling clothing and accessories. Jessica Davis originally opened her shop in May only a block away on Main Street — tucked into a space set back from the former AJ’s Cafe. But since moving to her new location and being more visible, Davis said her business has at least tripled.

“I’m not sure about it seeming slow,” Davis said, because she wasn’t there in the fall. But, “I feel like it’s busy.”

“I like it here, from what little experience I have,” Davis said. “It’s like you’re part of an elite club.”

Alex and AnnYager McCrosky, owners of soon-to-be-opened Harvey’s on North Fourth Street said they are excited to be operating downtown. And if another restaurant eventually opens on Main Street where Cue was located, “That would make us very happy,” Alex McCrosky said.

“Rising tides lift all boats. We would love to pull more people downtown.”

He said, “The more foot traffic we have downtown, the better off all businesses will be.”

AnnYager McCrosky added, “I want everyone to love downtown the way I love downtown.”