The ‘lower Main Street’ conundrum
Lower Main Street merchants have been struggling for years to increase foot traffic to their restaurants, galleries and boutiques. Still, there seems to be an invisible barrier separating ‘main’ Main from ‘lower’ Main.
Regardless of the enticements they offer, from free outdoor music to sidewalk sales and an ample underground parking complex, visitors seem to sense an invisible barrier at the corner of Main Street and Heber Avenue. For reasons that have baffled the frustrated business owners whose addresses exceed the 600s, sightseers and shoppers hit that intersection and, too often, turn around to walk up the other side of the street or plunk down on the bench by the Kimball Art Center to wait for a bus back to their cars or condos.
At first, city officials teamed with the merchants of lower Main to concoct a variety of clever schemes aimed at introducing the public to Main Street’s new addition. They closed Heber Avenue between Main Street and Park Avenue to force traffic further down Main Street, they approved outdoor music stages on the lower Main Street plaza and tried to tweak existing special events to embrace the area including moving the Arts Festival entrance smack dab in the middle. .
Santa Claus has even changed his route to make a special appearace on the Town Lift Plaza.
Nevertheless, the business marquees on lower Main Street, with a few stalwart exceptions, continue to change with alarming frequency. Dynamite Dom’s, Picasso, Read bookstore, Rum Bunnies, Silver City Diner, Lakota, Creekside Gallery, Mikado and Jambalaya all tried to make a go of it on lower Main, and ultimately gave up.
That is disappointing, not only because many were delightful hangouts, but because the area, with its cozy plaza and insulation from cars, has great potential as a pedestrian gathering place.
In addition to that stubborn Heber Avenue hurdle, those who have stayed and those who have recently hung out their shingles on lower Main have even greater challenges to surmount this summer. With the temporary closing of the popular restaurants Zoom and Easy Street to make room for construction of the Sky Lodge, along with the renovation of the Taminah Gallery building, the entryway to lower Main looks pretty daunting to the average window shopper.
So it must be difficult for the lower Main Street business owners and employees to be so close, and yet so far, from the hustle and bustle of Main Street, especially on Arts Festival weekend. Unfortunately, due to the short construction season and multiple projects coming online at once, they might need a little extra support from the city and from their patrons in the weeks to come.
Their isolation, though, could be construed to their advantage. Savvy residents feeling edged out by the Arts Festival crowd this weekend should slip past the imaginary barrier on Heber Avenue and reacquaint themselves with the shops and restaurants that reside below the big crane on Main. The Town Lift Plaza and the lower Main plaza both offer a scenic summer respite often accompanied by live music.
Beyond the Arts Festival, the city and the merchants of lower Main Street should continue brainstorming new ways to draw visitors a block or two further down. Ultimately, spreading the wealth of tourism along all of Main Street will benefit the entire city.
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Larry Aleva writes in a guest editorial that City Hall must be more accountable and transparent.