In 2007 31 street-level retail operations opened in downtown Louisville. That same year, 29 such business closed. In the first quarter of 2008, 9 opened and 5 closed. That trend continues.
“The lease is up and the sales are down.”
Greg Jewell is the former co-owner of Buzzworx Coffee Shop on Main Street downtown. He closed the shop on April 25th a few months after some of his neighbors shut their doors.
“There was a ladies apparel shop right next door to us here that went out of business. I know the Jazz Factory has gone out of business. And those are just within a stone’s throw of my door.”
Jewell blames his closure on the lagging economy.
Patricia Clare is the Interim Director of the Downtown Development Corporation. Clare agrees with Jewell, but she also says businesses come and go in developing urban cores.
“Our retail segment is the slowest to grow and that’s typical in a downtown resurgence.”
Louisville has followed the same downtown model as other cities: First they focus on entertainment, which attracts residents and visitors who will then, it is hoped, lure retail business. Clare says the city is on the second step.
“We have to grow our offices, grow our residential businesses, grow our visitor climate. Those three things will grow the retail. That has been our focus over the last 15 years.”
“You can’t succeed as a business if you don’t have customers. At the same time if you want to move downtown because of the convenience of existing businesses then you’re likely to not move downtown because the existing businesses aren’t there.”
Jack Trawick is the Executive Director of the Center for Neighborhoods. He’s also Patricia Clare’s husband. He and Clare both predict retail will flourish downtown after new building projects are completed.
Right now, downtown residences have an occupancy between 80 and 90%, giving the area about 5,000 people. A recent study from a Maryland based group shows a surplus of stores for that population. But while a store can be a supermarket or clothing boutique, it can also be a mobile phone retailer, art gallery or wig shop. And there is no supermarket downtown. Clare says that isn’t a major problem.
“There are very few cities in America where you would walk to the grocery. You just don’t do that because you’re buying things that are heavy and you need your car.”
But it’s where they need to drive to that affects downtown…Again, Jack Trawick.
“It’s very important that the community continue to focus on the redevelopment of neighborhoods and the revitalization of neighborhoods in those that are immediately contiguous to downtown.”
The Maryland study shows a demand for retail like supermarkets and shopping centers directly south and west of Downtown. Areas that Trawick says are crucial to urban development.
“If those neighborhoods continue to struggle, to lag behind in terms of revitalization then that, to some extent undermines the marketability of downtown, especially for retail and restaurants.”
Trawick says more retail and a strong population in neighborhoods south of Broadway and west of 9th Street would give the downtown area a boost.
“Those – in the end – will be where the most significant residential development will occur. Creating the kind of residential density that people seek for downtown.”