A (Re)Soundingly successful event

Published 8:50 pm Monday, November 16, 2015

The scene on Washington and North Main streets this weekend was a downtown developer’s dream.

Nearly every formerly vacant storefront was occupied, and shoppers and retailers were conducting commerce with a briskness that hasn’t been seen in downtown Suffolk for years. Meanwhile, visitors to the city’s core enjoyed special deals at some of the Suffolk’s favorite restaurants, and both children and adults enjoyed wholesome entertainment.

Judging from the comments of a few of those retailers and their customers who attended the (Re)Stored event hosted in six different vacant buildings occupying the vital-but-depressed square block adjacent to the intersection of the downtown area’s two primary roads, the pop-up retail event this weekend was a big success.

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“I’ve enjoyed being here today,” said Kim Skeeter, who was showing off a variety of handcrafted jewelry in the vacant space that was formerly the Salvation Army thrift store on West Washington Street. She said a lot of people seemed excited and energized because of the event. “We’ve had good traffic.”

Despite redoubled efforts during the past couple of years to revitalize downtown Suffolk, it has been a long time since anyone described the situation there in terms of “good traffic.”

Loft apartments have been built and leased along the southern side of the 100 block of West Washington Street, and some retail and service companies have followed. Restaurants and retailers on both that portion of Washington and the part of Main Street just around the corner continue to survive, if not thrive. Those positive developments, however, have failed to push downtown past the tipping point of success.

On Saturday and Sunday, folks got a glimpse of what success in downtown Suffolk might look like: folks strolling the sidewalks, going from one business to the next; diners enjoying a bite to eat; retailers running credit cards through card readers.

Perhaps the taste of success is just what the area needs in order for appetites to be whetted. Maybe some of those retailers who tested the waters this weekend will have been so encouraged that they’ll choose to lease an open storefront and open a location downtown. Maybe landlords will take the lesson in small-space leasing that they learned and apply it on a long-term basis. Perhaps the city will recognize that providing regular entertainment downtown can help entice folks to shop there.

Meanwhile, kudos to the Retail Alliance and the Suffolk Department of Economic Development for putting together a fine event. There were surely risks involved with it, but (Re)Stored appears to have been a resounding success.