The efforts to make downtown Suffolk the bustling commercial district it once was have had many stops and starts over the years.
Projects have been announced, money has been poured, events have been held, plans have been made, and none of it has quite seemed to be the magic sauce that would make downtown Suffolk comparable to places like Richmond’s Carytown district.
In downtown Suffolk, restaurants tend to open and then close with regularity, and retail outlets have a turnover rate that seems almost as high. Large workplaces in the heart of downtown, like Suffolk Public Schools’ administrative offices and the courthouse, as well as quite a number of apartments built in renovated commercial buildings in the last few years, have helped but still haven’t transformed downtown.
Something new was needed to inject some excitement — and, yes, some cash. That came along recently with the Community Business Launch project.
The project started with several dozen potential business owners who went through a series of classes. Of the handful who completed the classes, nine submitted business plans and five were chosen to be finalists at Tuesday’s Pitch Night Competition.
Once it was all said and done, Brick and Mortar and the SPARC Shoppe received $15,000 each, while Groundworks Bar and Bistro was awarded $10,000 and Elizabeth and Maude Boutique got $5,000.
The judges awarded the largest grants to two established businesses looking to expand and enhance their operations. Two new ideas that have great promise to contribute to a wonderful downtown area also received grants.
Most people who are knowledgeable about downtown Suffolk, asked what its problem is, will tell you there is nothing to attract foot traffic. There are ancillary issues, such as parking and crime, that most agree are more perception than reality. But the biggest problem, while it’s been getting better with some trendy eateries and a brewery, has yet to be resolved.
We hold onto the excitement that the Community Business Launch Competition created and look forward to great things from these and other new and expanding businesses.