Happy Birthday! The new face of historic Main Street is now a year old. And, with improved pedestrian areas, lots of seating and a cleaned-up look, locals are flocking downtown.
"It was a tough couple of years, but it's nice to hear that what we did worked," Downtown Partnership marketing and communications director Kathy Dirks said. "Prior to the uplift, we didn't have any seating areas. There was nothing for kids before either."
Done in two phases, construction to fix infrastructure issues and beautify the area finished last June. While the City of Grand Junction paid for a new water line, most of the revitalization effort was funded by the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) as a capital improvement project.
"Summers are always a fun time downtown," Dirks said. "The uplift also allowed more restaurants to have outside dining, and people love that. This is such a community gathering place now."
Free WiFi access, which was part of the downtown upgrade, isn't running yet. Dirks said, however, she's still hopeful it will be accessible sometime this summer.
With three large hotels on Main Street, more visitors can stay downtown, Dirks added. Construction on the SpringHill Suites near the Two Rivers Convention Center finished up last summer.
Has Main Street's new look created an increase in sales? The jury's still out. But, one thing's for certain - business owners polled say they've seen a spike in pedestrian traffic downtown.
"We got the road back last June," Brown Cycles owner Chris Brown said. "For the first six months, we didn't see a huge spike in business. It seems to be gang-bustering right now though."
While a year of construction was hard on bike sales, Brown said his store is now posting "2007 sales numbers."
"We're back to pre-recession," he said. "I'm hearing that a lot of other shops are doing the same."
Brown, who's spent 12 years on Main Street's 500 block, said he sees GJ's historic downtown "as a cultural epicenter moving forward."
With kids' play areas, two baby stores and five bike shops, Brown also noted an increase in catering to a younger crowd.
"It's coming to life," he said. "I don't think you could ask for more than that."
Il Bistro Italiano's owner Brunella Gualerzi said she's happy construction is over, and she's pleased with the results.
"I think it's an enormous improvement," Gualerzi said, noting the replacement of concrete and asphalt with greenery as a huge positive.
She also said she's glad other restaurants are now able to have outdoor patio seating.
"It's more appealing," Gualerzi said. "It enhances the feel, and it gets people downtown."
Located on Fourth and Main streets, construction directly resulted in slower spring business for two years, Gualerzi said, but "this year is much better." She attributes it to a combination of factors - construction being over, the economy improving, the street's new look and other new businesses in the area.
"I think Art on the Corner is still a big draw," she added. "It makes the street more interesting."
Bruce Benge, owner of Benge's Shoes, said all Main Street updates are positively impacting his business. The 101-year-old shop operates on Main Street's 500 block.
"You're not going to have an antiquated water line break," Benge said. "There's (going to be) WiFi. All the things you can see - they look good. There was lots of disrepair before. Comments from people coming downtown are all very favorable."
Benge also noted an influx in pedestrians, especially children.
"The splash fountain is a huge hit," he said. "You can hear a lot of giggles and laughs on Main Street now."
Benge added that his sales are up as well.
"We're having our best year ever," he said.
New Main Street business owner John Lintott said he's glad downtown traffic numbers are drawing more people into his gallery. The Kurtzman/Lintott Gallery opened on the 400 block in February as a joint venture with photographer Rob Kurtzman. Lintott said construction and the economy impeded on Kurtzman's former Main Street business, which led him to join forces with Lintott.
"We constantly have people coming in to look around," he said.