Downtown Gainesville is not only open for business, but “thriving” in terms of foot traffic.
“I feel like the trend is moving upward,” said Don Griffin, owner of Frames You-Nique on Main Street.
Several business owners said Monday they’re noticing more people frequenting the downtown area, translating to an increase in retail sales.
Most attributed that uptick to the number of events bringing people to Gainesville, increasing both foot traffic and awareness of what’s available.
“For us, it may not necessarily increase sales on the day (of an event) but what it does increase is foot traffic in the area, and so then what we’re seeing is customers coming back,” said Hillary Harper, director of marketing and public relations with Dress Up Boutique.
There were close to 160 events in the downtown area last year, and there are expected to be that many this year, according to Regina Mansfield, Main Street Gainesville manager.
“We really have put a lot of effort into bringing a variety of things downtown so that we can capture ... a wide market,”
Mansfield said. “We have a diverse collection of stores downtown, so we’ve got a wide market to appeal to.”
Mansfield said it was a collaborative effort between Main Street Gainesville and the merchants, with which Griffin agreed.
“The city and the merchants have worked really hard to make it happen, but I think it’s paying off,” he said. “I can’t speak for the other (businesses), but at least in here, we’re up.”
Beyond events like First Friday, Art in the Square and the upcoming Mule Camp Market, proprietors also said the downtown area is a unique draw on its own.
“It’s hard to find a genuine Southern town,” said Gabby Yates, a vendor with Mustard Seed 1720. The shop Yates described as “Pinterest come alive” celebrated its one-year anniversary in July. “There’s a cadence to it. Go to other towns, and there’s no cadence. It’s flat, it’s all the same.”
Teresa Dyer, manager of Hawk’s Nest & Friends antique shop, said the business moved to downtown Gainesville for the “atmosphere.”
“We get a lot of walk-by traffic here where we wouldn’t get that anywhere else,” she said. Dyer added that the store has stayed open late on Friday nights when there have been activities on the square so people walking by could step inside and shop.
“You can’t get that charm in a strip mall,” Mansfield said about downtown Gainesville’s appeal.
One-by-one, business owners cautiously agreed that so far this year, the increase in downtown visitors has led to an increase in business.
“It’s really strange,” said Lorry Schrage, co-owner of Saul’s. “One month will be really, really good, and one will be really bad. But overall, it’s been better.
“I think we’re getting more and more good things here that are bringing people downtown,” Schrage added, referring to the number of events held on the square.
Linda Orenstein, co-owner of Gem Jewelry Co., offered a different perspective.
“I can’t say it’s busier than it has been, but it’s been stable,” she said, noting the downtown restaurants have seen steady business.
Orenstein said she thinks people may be spending more money.
Courtney Martin with Martin Furniture and Design agreed the restaurants bring in extra foot traffic.
“I just think, overall, the stores are updated, there have been new ones that have come in, and the food and the economy,” she said. “Business is definitely up.”
Martin added she has noticed a lot of the downtown stores have renovated or updated their interiors, offering a “fresh” look that appeals to shoppers.
Mansfield said when she attends conferences or visits other cities, she feels a small thrill when returning to Gainesville.
“It makes me proud that our little downtown is actually thriving as opposed to struggling,” Mansfield said. “From a lot of people, I hear the word ‘vibrant’ over and over, how ‘vibrant’ and ‘alive’ our downtown is. And I love it.”