Downtown business owners support an improved Avalon Theatre in GJ
Editor’s note: Normally, it’s easier to find folks willing to voice opinions spanning both sides of an issue. But when the Free Press reached out to downtown Grand Junction business owners about the city’s pending construction project on the Avalon Theatre, owners polled spoke only in support of revitalizing the aging structure. If you are a downtown business owner against a revitalization of the Avalon Theatre on Main Street, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear your voice. Thanks!
When the 90-year-old Avalon Theatre closed its doors June 2, downtown business owners impacted by the revitalization project expected that construction would commence to bring the aged structure into a new class (more seating, better bathrooms, improved lobby, etc.).
But when Grand Junction’s City Council failed to award a construction contract to FCI at last week’s regular meeting, the empty performing-arts center took on a different symbol; one of disappointment for small businesses dependent on Main Street foot traffic, still tinged with hope that council will move forward quickly to give the community a better entertainment facility.
Beth Zanski, owner of Culinary Corner, 455 Main St., said she’s invested in the historical value the Avalon Theatre brings to downtown, as well as increased foot traffic that would benefit her shop.
“So many tourists appreciate its beauty,” Zanski said. “You just can’t have an empty building.”
Zanski, 48, was born and raised in Grand Junction and she’s owned her business for 31 years (two of those most recently spent on Main Street).
“Anything that would help draw downtown business helps,” she said.
Justin Nordine, owner of the Raw Canvas Tattoo Studio and Art Gallery, 507 Main St., said he would “absolutely support a remodel” of the Avalon Theatre, and upgrading the structure is for the greater good of the city.
Nordine, 33, was born and raised in Grand Junction and has run his business on historic Main Street for the last two years. Besides being a downtown business owner, he also attends Downtown Vineyard Church, which until recently held its services in the Avalon on Sundays.
“It will help all business owners to bring people into town,” he said.
Nordine also commented that while city-owned facilities like the Avalon and Two Rivers Convention Center aren’t profitable for the city, it positively impacts business to the area.
“Grand Junction is craving things to do,” Nordine said. “We have to go to Denver or Salt Lake City. Why Grand Junction is so restrictive (on its cultural offerings) is beyond me.”
Mario Calderone, owner of Shoe Design, 648 Main St., has operated his business across the street from the Avalon for 31 years.
“Hopefully, they can fix it,” Calderone said. “I’d like them to do it.”
Calderone noted that having a full venue for a variety of offerings would be beneficial to Grand Junction. He also said that tourists will bring “piles of money” to downtown if they have a reason to do so.
When questioned on whether he thought the theater itself should be a moneymaker for the city, he said he would like to see it “break even.”
Natasha Watts, owner of Seasons to Follow, 612 Main St., additionally said she thought the city should uphold its commitment to partially fund the theater renovation.
“The council promised,” Watts said.
Seasons to Follow has been at its current location for 15 years, and Watts added that the downtown area needs this project “to keep Main Street going.”
“I don’t think the Avalon will be the end-all answer (for Grand Junction’s still ailing economy), but a remodel will help,” she said.
Bruce Benge, owner of Benge’s Shoes, 514 Main St., supported council moving forward on its plans to upgrade the Avalon Theatre as well.
“I think the Avalon is a great project,” Benge said. “ … It would be detrimental to business if it stood empty.”
Benge’s Shoes has been at its current location since 1921, with Bruce at the helm for the last 38 years.
Cheryl Lucas, owner of Crystal Books and Gifts, 439 Main St., said she supports the Avalon upgrade project, “both as a person who lives in Grand Junction and as a business owner.”
Lucas has operated her business at its current location for the last 16 years, with 26 total years spent downtown.
“It affects downtown immensely if it’s closed, and we don’t need a closed building,” she said. “It’s a great building, and it needs to be taken care of.”
Lucas also noted that the Avalon Theatre isn’t just for big-name performers.
“It’s used for all purposes,” she said. “It’s an important part of creating a community.”
Becky Brehmer, who owns Razzmatazz, 552 Main St., and the Blue Moon Bar and Grill, 120 N. Seventh St., with her husband, Brad, said she was disappointed that city council didn’t take positive steps forward on the Avalon construction contract last week.
“My hope is that somehow council will see the light that the Avalon is an asset,” Brehmer said.
According to Brehmer, the “Avalon has always been a treasure” downtown. “Now they could make it a sparkling diamond at the end of Main Street. For restaurants and retail, it would make a huge difference because you’re getting people from the valley to stroll down Main Street.”
Josh Niernberg, chef/owner of Bin 707 Foodbar, 225 N. Fifth St., said he thinks “it’s absolutely absurd what city council has done here.”
“We’ve got most of the state working on increasing tourism to the Grand Valley and using entertainment options as a way to do so. Money was raised, money was in existence. It should have been a meeting that they were just awarding the contract.”
Niernberg added that as a business owner in the downtown area for the last five years, he’s worked hard to cross-promote with the Avalon as much as he could.
“To take that away in my opinion is completely irresponsible,” he said. “It could not be more detrimental.”
Niernberg also noted that other businesses are closely watching what happens to the Avalon before they invest on the south side of Main Street.
“If those lights continue to go dark, it’s going to create a domino effect” that will hurt the downtown area, he said.
For instance, folks are looking closely at the now vacant space where Tenacious Brothers used to operate.
”That’s going to be an appealing property,” Niernberg said. “This is based on the Avalon Theatre functioning and being remodeled.”
And Steve Thoms, owner of the long-standing Winery Restaurant, 642 Main St., located directly across the street from the Avalon, voiced his support for a revitalized Avalon both at last week’s city council meeting and again when questioned this week. He also noted that an empty Avalon Theatre will be a “blight” on the community.
“Across the country you see cities supporting stadiums and performing arts complexes because that is a service that the taxpayer, including business taxpayers, demand,” Thoms said. “A thriving arts community is one of the lures that Grand Junction needs to use as we help promote businesses to invest in our community by moving here and attracting quality doctors for our hospitals and teachers for our schools.”
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