More hotel rooms help bring more customers downtown
Two things happened in June that Grand Valley Books owner Margie Wilson believes helped bring more customers to her store at 350 Main St.
First, the two-year construction project that renovated downtown Main Street was completed. Shortly after that, Springhill Suites opened at 236 Main St., bringing a third hotel to the downtown area.
The new hotel meant more space to lodge tourists, business travelers and people attending conferences at nearby Two Rivers Convention Center. It also meant more people wandering up the street in the evenings after check-in time, so Wilson kept her store open until 8 or 9 some nights in the summer and still stays open until 7 p.m. in the winter.
Some of her best customers from the hotels have been Europeans taking the Great Rails of America trip, which drops off Amtrak passengers overnight in Grand Junction three nights a week.
“Those Brits love to buy books. And postcards. And T-shirts,” Wilson said.
Ron Maupin, owner of A Haggle of Vendors Emporium at 510 Main St., also has found success with customers by staying open later than some downtown shops. He said he has local customers, but he has a growing base of out-of-towners, many stopping through on the way to Denver or Las Vegas, who stay at nearby hotels.
“I have repeat customers who come and stay downtown. Sometimes they’re waiting for me when I come to open at 10 a.m.,” he said.
Maupin and Wilson are not alone downtown when it comes to experiencing a sales boost. Downtown businesses had the biggest jump, 7 percent, among eight sectors of the city in total sales and use tax revenue collected in the third quarter of 2011 compared to the third quarter of 2010.
Jo’s Clothes owner Jo Lynn Garcia-Tillman said patrons of Main Street Suites and Hampton Inn have always shopped at her 251 Colorado Ave. store. Many can see the consignment shop from their hotel room windows, she said. But she saw a little bump in sales with the addition of Springhill Suites.
“I think it has made a big difference in the downtown area, especially for shopping,” Garcia-Tillman said. “I’m getting quite the traffic.”
Garcia-Tillman estimates 30 to 40 percent of her customers are hotel patrons. She said she makes a point of asking customers where they are from and, if they aren’t local, where they are staying. She said new “way-finding” signs stretching from Horizon Drive hotels to downtown have made some impact, but not a huge difference.
“On occasion they’ll mention they’re staying out on Horizon Drive but not a lot,” she said.
Kevin Reimer, who co-owns Springhill Suites and its two hotel neighbors along with his brother Steve, said he opened his first downtown hotel in 2000 because he was new to Grand Junction and didn’t “have a stigma ingrained that I had to build a hotel near I-70.” He said he wanted to offer guests a place to stay near the convention center and downtown retail shops and restaurants.
“It’s certainly a good niche,” he said. “It gives the hotel a lot more amenities we can share with our guests.”
Reimer said he promotes downtown businesses at local food and drink nights at the hotels and in maps handed out to guests with their room-key cards. In return for the promotion, Reimer said he has “a helpful volunteer sales force” of downtown business owners who recommend friends and family stay downtown. As a result, Reimer said Springhill was able to book guests in its 100 rooms without taking business from Main Street Suites or Hampton Inn.
“It shows me the demand is there,” he said.
The demand for larger conferences at nearby Two Rivers Convention Center is also there, or at least Two Rivers Manager Theron LaFountain wants it to be. He said the center has two more net conferences booked this year than in 2011 and a third may be on the way. He said a big selling point is being able to convince larger conferences that they may be able to place every convention attendee in hotels within walking distance of the convention center.
“It does help us out and get business” to have more downtown hotel rooms, he said. “I think this year as a whole is starting to shape up for us.”
Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau Division Manager Barb Bowman said having more rooms downtown has helped attract convention-goers and tourists. She said the bureau consistently gets requests from visitors for hotels that are near downtown.
“It’s access and atmosphere,” Bowman said. “People who prefer downtown hotels prefer a downtown experience where they are able to park and walk to restaurants and shops.”
Rick Crippen, co-owner of Dolce Vita at 336 Main St., said he sees hotel guests every day his restaurant is open, especially between 4 and 8 p.m. He said out-of-towners have helped business during traditionally slower periods, such as the winter. He said some locals are still working on remembering to eat downtown after getting used to going elsewhere when they wanted to avoid construction during the Downtown Uplift project. Parking can still be an issue for some local customers, he said.
“The city has stepped up ticketing. Some people run out to their car during lunch and have a $12 ticket. It frustrates people,” Crippen said.
Paul Knaysi, owner of Pablo’s Pizza at 319 Main St., said tourists have helped his business. But he’s busy with all kinds of customers since construction ended.
“It’s a combination” of construction being over, a new hotel opening, and the economy improving that have drawn customers to the pizzeria, Knaysi said.