Written by Walter L. Johnson II
Fashion, fine art, food, and fun: That’s just part of what’s driving business into Downtown Albany these days.
Downtown Manager Aaron Blair believes that 2011 was a turning point in terms in changing the perception of the district in multiple ways.
“I felt like we’ve turned the corner pretty well back in downtown as far as our perception that we deal with in downtown as far as not a lot going on,” Blair said, “safety issues, things like that, I think we’ve overcome that quite a bit, and really the emergence of our cultural arts in downtown really has helped with our efforts.”
An “urban outdoor art park”
Albany area artists who want to have a showcase for their talents will soon get an opportunity to do just, with a new art park being developed downtown. Blair says renovating the building to make it more outdoor friendly will help bring in more visitors.
“The art park is an initiative that we’ve started with acquiring one of the most dilapidated buildings in downtown, and really looking at what can we do with this structure other than bulldozing the historic storefront,” Blair said.
“Basically, what we’ve done is we’ve taken this structure, and reinforced the front and back facades, to allow us to utilize the property for an artist’s venue, that basically is going to be an urban outdoor art park.
The new park won’t be just for artwork either, added Blair.
“There’s no roof on the building currently, and it’s going to be a structure that will allow for urban gardening, art on weekends, and during the week, and basically artists will be able to come in there, and have their space to display their art.”
Fashion and food on Broad Avenue
One of the newest and most popular eateries in Downtown Albany opened last August, when the Pizza Shop and Pizzeria Restaurant opened for business.
Owner Fran Bragg, whose family moved to Southwest Georgia from Brooklyn, N.Y. in the late 1970’s, says customers have wanted her to open a shop in the downtown district for quite some time.
“My parents and family had a pizzeria here for over 30 years,” Bragg recalled, “and we had a lot of our customers who used to tell us to come downtown.
“So when my parents closed (their pizzeria), I took a little time to think about it, and decided to come down here, and make some of our customers happy.”
Just multiple doors down from the Pizza Shop on Broad Avenue, there’s GABE Alterations, a formal wear and alterations business which will celebrate its first anniversary on May 7. Co-owner Gail Morrill says her business serves as an outreach ministry to shoppers in Downtown Albany.
“My partner, (co-owner Gwen Davis) and I felt the Lord to begin this business downtown, to work as well as to (be) a servant with the talents that he’s given us,” Morrill said.
Although the prom season is winding down with lackluster sales, Morrill expects the upcoming wedding season to bring in more business.
“We didn’t do what we thought we would do for the proms, but I think we got into a different marketing manner next year for it,” said Morrill. “But our wedding season has started off really well.
“January through March is considered what they call ‘Bridal Christmas,’ when most of the wedding dresses for the whole year are sold. We did really well, we’re pleased with that.
Morrill also praises the fact that the dresses that GABE sells is cheaper than most of the national chains, such as David’s Bridal.
“Our dresses are a fraction of the cost of your regular retail sales,” explained Morrill. “Most of our dresses are brand-new dresses that have been put in here by most companies that have either gone out of business, or deleting certain styles.”
Blair says 2012 will be a year where he hopes the perception of Downtown Albany will continue to change. He says other people are doing their part to make sure that it keeps going.
“I think you’ll see some more signature events coming out of downtown,” Blair said. “What we’re starting to see is other individuals step up to the plate, and helping us along the way, and stepping out and putting on their own events.
“I think you’ll see that the Flint Fest this year, which is Oct. 6, will again grow even larger than the 5,000 people we had last year.”
Morrill also predicts that more people will start their own businesses in the downtown district out of necessity, due to the uncertainty in the economy.
“What’s happening these days is you have many new people who are starting their own businesses, because of the way has been the last couple of years,” said Morrill. “People have been forced to step out, and to start their own businesses, and because of that, there’s a lot of growth with these smaller businesses taking place, and with that, we’re going to be seeing a lot more of them coming into the downtown area.
“With the Downtown Merchants Association,” Morrill added, “we’re really reaching out to pull more people into this area.”
On The Web: http://dtownalbany.com/