As the holiday shopping season quickly approaches in the Hill City, downtown business owners are preparing their shops and their attitudes for a positive and successful season — even in the midst of more construction.
Construction for the Main Street Renewal project began in September with a projected completion date of summer 2021. The estimated $17 million renewal blueprint is the second phase of the city’s downtown waterline replacement and streetscape project and will involve work on Main Street between 8th and 12th streets as well as on 10th Street between Church and Main streets.
High Peak Sportswear made the decision to move its inventory to its store in The Plaza and close its downtown location last month because of the construction project.
“I was pretty firmly convinced it would be a tremendous amount of reduction in sales volume during construction,” owner Ralph Smith told The News & Advance in October. “The amount of money we would have lost over the next two years would be hard to justify.”
But other businesses are staying put and believe their customers will continue to support them, adding the street still is passable.
Susan Brown, program director at the Downtown Lynchburg Association (DLA), said construction crews are doing a fantastic job of tidying up the streets and sidewalks making sure they are safe for drivers and pedestrians.
“When they’re not there, they’ve made sure it’s not unsightly and it doesn’t feel cumbersome to be around,” she said.
DLA is unveiling art that will be placed on some of the fencing on Main Street and also have put up creative and fun banners, one of which reads, “We’re fixin’ to fix some things. Don’t let a little dirt keep you from eating, shopping and adventuring in downtown Lynchburg!”
Brown said the banners give people a little more to engage with while downtown and help the streets not look like such a mess.
“The crews are rocking and rolling. They have been ahead of schedule and have made some tremendous efforts,” she said.
The city originally had stated construction would be complete by Thanksgiving 2021, but as of Friday the city states waterline crews have installed pipe up to 12th Street and are continuing service pipes to all properties while the electrical contractors are installing conduit for light pole bases.
It’s most updated street closure map indicates construction should be complete by July 2021.
Despite that, the holiday shopping season isn’t waiting for work to finish.
It’s the calendar, not construction, that is the cause of some business owners’ biggest worry — this holiday shopping season, there are only three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas instead of the usual four.
“It’s a squished shopping season,” Brown said. “It will be coming before a lot of shoppers realize it so businesses are trying to get ahead of that.”
Deborah Keeling, owner of Accents Flags & Gifts at 1716 Main St., especially knows the pains of construction and has persevered
She, along with a few other businesses on the east side of the street, endured one year of construction when the Main Street Bridge, about 500 feet from her front door, was replaced. The project lasted from November 2017 to November 2018.
“I sympathize with them,” she said referring to Main Street businesses.
She and five other businesses including Enchanted, Spearman Artisanry and Heritage Connection on Main Street as well as Shay’s on Commerce Street and Beeswax Candle on 13th Street, are teaming up to attract customers for extended shopping hours. The event will be held from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Nov. 21.
This year, Keeling said, she is stocked and ready to go with Christmas merchandise, which she ordered back in January and which was delivered in June.
She plans to do five open houses at her business instead of just one because during bridge construction so many customers thought she had closed.
She said she worries about Main Street businesses this holiday season since she went through it herself and is talking to many owners to help them prepare.
“A lot of people hear the word construction and they stay away so I’m trying my best to spread the word and direct customers I have to visit the other businesses further down Main Street,” she said. “People need to understand they can go down Main Street, there’s only one lane closed. There’s plenty of parking. When there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Mary Brockman, owner of Enchanted at 1204 Main St., said that in her 23rd year in business she is accustomed to construction downtown, but what is different this time is that the entire street is not closed and drivers can navigate easily.
“The construction workers have gone out of their way to do everything they can to help, there’s plenty of free parking,” she said. “It’s still very doable.”
All over the country, small towns and cities alike are engaging in new infrastructure and rehabilitation, she said.
“For whatever reason, a lot of it’s going on, and it’s something we all have to deal with, and our customers need to support us in this if we want to continue to be in business and operating downtown,” she said.
She said downtown needs the partnership of the community to support businesses that have made efforts to bring in the merchandise they think their customers will enjoy and purchase during the holiday season.
“The partnership with our customers needs to be ever strong and consistent,” she said. “I’m greatly appreciative for the community as it pulls together to keep these businesses profitable during Christmas.”
Janette Spearman, at Spearman Artisanry at 919 Main St., said she is making extra efforts to advertise her Main Street business as well as a second location she operates inside the Lynchburg Community Market at 1219 Main St.
She said some areas of the construction may look congested but people still can walk on the sidewalks to the stores on Main Street.
“There is room to walk by and most businesses are doing well. Very few people are not aware that businesses are still functioning,” she said.
She said she has a positive attitude with the street work because she knows when complete, it will be a great thing for the city.
“I know we will go through a little bit of hard times but not so much we will have to close,” she said. “When this is all done, I think we will be doing great here in Lynchburg when it comes to tourism.”
She said she is thankful to work alongside with other friends and business owners during this time.
“We are helping each other and I think that is attracting more people downtown,” she said.
DLA is putting much of its efforts toward making Nov. 30 — Small Business Saturday and Deck the Hills, an evening of food, festivities and tree lighting — a success downtown.
The organization has set up a website with specials, promotions and reasons why shopping local is a better alternative than visiting big box stores, she said.
Brown said there will be a shuttle service available around Church and Commerce streets that will run throughout the day and continue into the evening for Deck the Hills.
“We want people to enjoy downtown on foot,” she said. “There are so many beautiful things you miss when you’re in a car and this gives people that opportunity.”
The evening event will feature tree lighting at The Craddock Terry Hotel and Event Center as well as Santa and other performances, food and community events.
The Bluffwalk, a series of walkways, overlooks and staircases that connect Jefferson and Commerce streets, will be lit from that evening until early January for walkers to enjoy all season long.
Brown added she is working on having performers on the Bluffwalk every Saturday in December as well.
The Lynchburg Community Market still is holding its Mistletoe Market this year each Saturday from Nov. 30 to Dec. 21, offering horse-drawn carriage rides, visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus and locally made gifts for sale.
Rachael Smith covers local businesses and nonprofits. Reach her at (434) 385-5482.