Main Street Gainesville Manager Kristen Howard’s advice for those following downtown business changes is simple.
“Buckle up,” she said.
The pace has been hectic this year, with several downtown store openings and closings, while even more development and change is on the way.
“I’ve leased two spaces out just in the last week and I’m going to have one more available soon,” said Jean Ferris of Gainesville’s The Norton Agency. “Things go very fast for me on the square.
“I can remember years ago you couldn’t give away space. It’s not that way anymore.”
According to officials, here’s just a few of the latest happenings:
Artisan market Gainesville Collective has opened in Main Street Market.
Purchase Effect, an international accessories and home decor store, moved out of Main Street Market, opening at the corner of Bradford and Washington streets in the old District 101 location.
Imperial Salon is moving to the former Queen City Mercantile on Bradford Street.
White Dog Home is moving behind Purchase Effect on Washington, with plans for warehouse/shopping space in the alley behind Inman Perk coffee shop.
J.R. Crider’s, which began in Dahlonega, is closing its Bradford Street location, where it’s been since 2014. Owner Dan Fifer couldn’t be reached for comment.
Avocados restaurant at 109 Bradford St. has secured space next door — in what used to be The Nail Place — with the restaurant saying it’s not ready to announce plans yet.
Earlier this year, two decades-old businesses closed — Gem Jewelry and Saul’s clothing store.
There have been no updates concerning Gem Jewelry’s location, but Saul’s owner Lawrence “Lorry” Schrage said he’s talked to some people about selling his building at the corner of Main and Washington.
As far as what may lie ahead, “you never know until you see the money,” he said.
Otherwise, because of its prime location, he feels upbeat about selling the property and seeing it developed.
“I’m really lucky, I think,” Schrage said.
He said he believes Tim Knight Commercial Real Estate’s plans for Parkside on the Square, a $16 million dollar project on Spring Street — or the “fourth side of the square” — could change the look and feel of downtown.
Knight’s plans call for 15,000 square feet of street-level retail and restaurants and 40 condominiums for sale with prices starting in the $300,000 price range.
“The one thing that’s missing downtown, if you talk to people, is housing,” Schrage said. “(Parkside) is going to bring in housing, and I hope whoever buys my business will put housing in too.”
Purchase Effect owner Connie Rock said she’s “really excited” about her new location, with its wide windows giving a full view of downtown activity.
“I’m a little nervous because I know District 101, J.R. Crider’s and the (Queen City Mercantile) were all good solid businesses, so I’m sad they are gone,” she said.
Steve and Kathy Kersh, browsing in Rock’s store last week, said they lived in South Hall years ago, then left for about six years before moving to Gainesville last summer.
They live near downtown for a reason.
“Gainesville started looking like a much more attractive town,” Steve said. “It’s completely different. I never had a desire to live downtown, and we absolutely love it … and the walkability of it.”
Knight said he believes downtown Gainesville is “undergoing a renaissance period right now and that is a reflection of what is happening nationally.”
“People want to live, work, and play in an intown environment,” he said. “They want to park their cars and walk to retail, restaurants and entertainment. They want that connected, intown feel.
“You can see this all over metro Atlanta, with the renovations of other downtown areas like Suwanee, Duluth, Norcross, Woodstock, Alpharetta and many others.”
Tim Evans, vice president for economic development at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said he believes both Gainesville and Flowery Branch “have one up” on other cities trying to revitalize downtown.
“They didn’t have a downtown area — they had to create it from scratch. They had to build new to make it look old,” he said of other cities. “Gainesville and Flowery Branch already have that character. It’s more about repurposing existing buildings and making the new buildings conform to what’s already there.”
For his part, Knight said he believes the future is bright for the square.
“I expect the downtown square to welcome many new retailers over the next few years in addition to what we are adding with Parkside on the Square,” he said.