Some businesses plowing through downtown construction

Jim and Paula Hawkins own Gelato Junction, 449 Main St., and they say Thursday was the business’ best day ever in winter. Construction downtown is not keeping customers away, they say. Construction specials and tokens for the parking garage are incentives being offered.

Construction, cold weather and a chilly economy haven’t dissuaded customers from sampling the fare at Gelato Junction.

The store at 449 Main St. sells gelato, ice cream and chocolates and added soup-and-roll lunches last fall. Owner Paula Hawkins said sales are up this year compared to last winter, and she had a record-breaking day Thursday for winter-time sales.

“The construction’s not affecting me in a negative way,” she said. “We started giving coupons to regular customers during January and February, and those started coming back immediately.”

Encouraging customers to use the store’s back door, offering tokens for parking meters and letting the construction workers outside their front door know the shop opens early with hot chocolate and coffee on the menu have helped drum up business, Hawkins said. The store also has more than 700 followers on Facebook, where Hawkins posts the soup of the day, and she planned ahead for construction by saving some money last year, just in case sales went south.

Gelato Junction is one of several downtown retailers coming up with ideas for promotions this January through June during Downtown Uplift construction in the 400, 500 and 600 blocks of Main Street. Not everyone is as upbeat as Hawkins, including Julie Groll, owner of Vintage West Boutique, 441 Main St. Groll told The Daily Sentinel last week she is closing her shop within the next two to three months following dismal sales this year, which she blames on the construction.

Meanwhile, Sunshine Wraps at 560 Main St. and Mesa Theater & Club at 538 Main St. have closed temporarily during construction. Mesa Theater will reopen this summer, and Sunshine Wraps posted a note on its front door saying it may reopen as soon as May.

After seeing the Page One article about Vintage West closing, Allison Blevins, owner of Tangle, 525 Main St., wrote to the Sentinel to say the start of the construction in January didn’t curtail business at her yarn and fabric store.

Rather, she said, January sales were up 27 percent this year over January 2010.

Carla Bruton, who owns Kairos children’s apparel store at 533 Main St., said construction hasn’t affected her much because businesses in her block met to discuss strategy before construction began.

The idea of a weekly raffle, offering customers $10 gift certificates to five downtown businesses, came out of that meeting.

“We really kind of tried to do a proactive approach, and everyone’s doing their own thing,” Bruton said.

“Most people, if you ask them on this block, have had a good experience.”

Bruton said construction doesn’t always make it easy for customers to decide to take a trip downtown, but she believes businesses are doing their part to make downtown attractive to people.

She, for example, is having a sale now that she usually reserves for March.

The weather warming up this week hasn’t hurt sales, either, she said.

“There’s more of an impact with weather” than construction, Bruton said. “No one came out last year because of that inversion.”

Construction on the east end of the street has been slightly different than the construction that took place last year on the 100, 200 and 300 blocks of Main Street, with crosswalks available midstreet and blocks closing gradually instead of all at once.

The 600 block will be the next to close to auto traffic in March. Heirlooms for Hospice Assistant Manager Charlotte Osmundson said the store at 635 Main St. hasn’t been affected much yet, and she already has signs telling people they can park behind the store for easy access during construction.

“We’re hitting around a couple ideas about sales,” Osmundson said. “It’s not affecting us hugely because it’s slow this time of year anyway.”

Aside from kicking around ideas for sales, the store has some commercials running on television and has some sales running now on jewelry, handbags, scarves and women’s winter wear.

Some other deals running downtown include: buy a pair of shoes, get a pair for five cents, at Benge’s Shoe Store; specialty products and the chance to win prizes, such as a quilt, at Alida’s Fruits; 50 to 70 percent off certain items at Uniquely Yours; and coffee cuppings the third Saturday of each month, a free $20 gift card with $100 gift-card purchase, and double punches on frequent-buyer cards at Main Street Bagels.


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