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Gainesville businesses offer ideas for downtown to thrive
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For nearly two hours Tuesday, business owners in Gainesville’s downtown district bemoaned street closures for special events, drunk downtown deviants and the perception that there’s never enough downtown parking.

It was a start.

The meeting, held at the Georgia Mountains Center, was the first chance for business owners in the district to express to the newly formed Main Street Gainesville board their ideas on how to make Gainesville’s downtown thrive.

Main Street Gainesville, considered a mini chamber of commerce for the downtown businesses, reorganized this year after city officials pulled funding for an original independent group, opting instead to form a city-controlled downtown development authority.

Much of Tuesday’s meeting was spent discussing ways to make downtown events a positive for the district’s business owners.

When Bill Lightfoot, dean of Brenau University’s School of Business and Mass Communication and moderator of the meeting, asked what type of downtown events hinder or help downtown business owners, Mark Jordan, owner of Atlas Pizza, responded, “any and all.”

Downtown retailers were a little more discriminating.

Christopher Davidson, owner of the bridal shop Christopher’s, said some of the city’s most popular downtown events stifle his business.

“(We need) something that’s going to bring people to the square (to shop) instead of just ‘do y’all have a bathroom?’” Davidson said. “Mule Camp (Market) is the worst thing that’s ever happened to us.”

Marvin Orenstein asked that city officials prohibit vendors in downtown events from using backdrops that block the visibility of downtown businesses.

Other business owners said they had found ways to benefit from downtown events. Art Kunzer, owner of a downtown men’s store, said he usually held sidewalk sales to attract customers from downtown events.

And some expressed a need to get people in the community excited about coming downtown, because even if the event shut access off to their businesses for a day, they may bring more people back to downtown in the end.

They cited traffic issues and the inconsistency of business hours as reasons residents haven’t brought their business to the district so far. They asked for more signage directing people downtown, more use of social media and fewer street closures for downtown events.

“If it brings people downtown, it helps downtown survive and ultimately it helps me survive,” said Mary Paglia, owner of the Upper Deck Skate Shop.

And while there wasn’t a definitive call to action at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, most agreed that it was the beginning of a new conversation for downtown’s businesses.

Deb Harkrider, downtown business owner and chairwoman of Main Street Gainesville’s Advisory Board, said business owners could expect to have more input on ordinances and marketing strategies that affect the city’s downtown.

“Your city’s tax dollars are working for you,” said Harkrider. “We’ve got wonderful people here that are trying to help us become successful.”

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