The upside of downtown
This is the first of a four-part series looking at downtown Glenwood Springs and issues local businesses are facing. Part I: Downtown optimism Part II: Businesses in the spotlight Part III: After the Grand Avenue Mall fire Part IV: Puzzled over parking
If determination and devotion count for much, downtown Glenwood Springs’ future is secure.These are changing times for the city’s central core, and uncertain times for many downtown businesses and investors. They have endured the city’s economic setback following the Coal Seam Fire of 2002, a major repaving project on Grand Avenue that concluded last year, the arrival of new competition at Glenwood Meadows, a continuing parking problem, vacancies in several locations, and even a recent fire that knocked some back on their heels.Yet faith in downtown persists, driven partly by a love of downtown and a dedication to it.It’s where Becky Spagnolo wants to keep her restaurant, Spagnolo’s, despite its closure earlier this year due to the fire at the Grand Avenue Mall. Becky hopes she and her husband Corey can reopen it where it had served up Italian dishes for eight years before the fire struck.”There’s a lot of great people in the neighborhood. … It’s kind of home,” she said.
Other business representatives downtown also voice a similar affinity for the city’s commercial core, and an optimism about its future, and by extension their own. And they can find reason for optimism in each other, and the investments they all are making downtown.”I think the future is good for downtown,” said Ken Melby, who is constructing a multi-story brick building at the site of the old Glen Theater on the 800 block of Grand. “I’ve always been optimistic. That’s why I’m doing a building down there.””I’m bullish on Glenwood as a community,” said Dwayne Romero, an Aspen resident who recently paid $1.95 million for the Tamarack Building at 10th Street and Grand.”I have always recognized that Glenwood Springs has always had its own self-sustaining economy, and therefore it’s not as susceptible to the ebbs and flows of some of the resort-focused economies. … I think Glenwood is always going to be a wonderful place to invest, and not only that, it’s going to thrive as an economy.”While such positive thinking might be expected from a new investor in downtown, even seasoned veterans strike a hopeful tone, even if it’s somewhat tinged by their own experiences.Pat and Calvin Roberts chose not to reopen their Teddy’s Corner store in the Grand Avenue Mall after the fire. The Grand Avenue Mall has yet to reopen to tenants and the Robertses have missed out on spring break and summer business there.But they continue to plug along as the owners of the Watersweeper & The Dwarf, a long-standing gift store by the Grand Avenue Bridge downtown.”You’ve just got to take it as it comes,” Pat Roberts said of the changing downtown. “If you can’t be hopeful about it I think you’re done for. I think it will be all right.”Bob Boyd, who along with his wife, Sandy, owns the Glenwood Sewing Center on the 800 block of Grand, says conditions have been the toughest ever for their 30-year-old business. But he doesn’t blame downtown for that.”For the small shops it’s tough no matter where, no matter what,” he said. “I think our downtown is doing maybe as well as any of the small communities. But I think it’s just a tough go for little shops, period.”
Steve Beham knows full well the hopes, risks and challenges involved in investing in a small business downtown. He swallowed hard, bought a former pawn shop building on Grand and transformed it into the Bayou Cajun Restaurant & Bar. A tourist mainstay formerly located in West Glenwood, the restaurant now draws more locals in its new location, which pleases Beham.But he is frustrated by some aspects of downtown.”I think we’re in a rut,” said Beham, who would like to see downtown become more tourist-oriented, with a better nightlife, and some solution to the traffic problem on Grand.”If this could ever become an avenue again I would be thrilled, and maybe it would have an old-time atmosphere like Durango does, but not while it has a highway going through town,” he said.That’s not likely to change anytime soon. Highway 82 connects Interstate 70 to Roaring Fork Valley towns like Aspen and Carbondale. One proposal would relocate 82 along the old railroad corridor near the Roaring Fork River, but such a project could be decades away, and that’s if funding can be found and proponents can overcome opposition from residents who want to preserve the corridor.As for Beham’s concerns about nightlife, he’s not alone. Glenwood resident Tom Fleming, who headed up a downtown revitalization effort in Delray Beach, Fla., said a nightlife is essential to keeping a downtown from dying. While Glenwood’s is improving, it’s also still lacking, said Fleming, who said he hears visitors describe downtown as “a neat place that isn’t open late enough.”That’s been an age-old criticism of downtown, and merchants often respond that they’d be happy to stay open longer if they could find, and afford, enough help. But help has become even costlier and harder to find since the Glenwood Meadows commercial development began competing for employees. Still, people like Roberts do what they can. She said she’s begun keeping her store open later on weekends, and on Tuesdays to capitalize on the traffic being generated by the Downtown Market. The Tuesday market is in its second year of attracting more shoppers to central Glenwood Springs by offering produce, crafts and other goods.Besides hours of operation, downtown’s mix of offerings is an issue. Fleming doesn’t like to see street-level, nonretail buildings along the Grand Avenue core. Chris McGovern, a City Council member who also is a real estate broker, owner of downtown property and former longtime downtown business owner, said it’s important for retail outlets and restaurants rather than professional offices to be in primary locations.To McGovern, having the right mix of businesses downtown is as important as a lack of vacancies, although she said traditionally Glenwood has had one of the best occupancy rates in western Colorado.
Several sources interviewed for this story pointed to a fair number of vacancies downtown. But Boyd simply views it as providing him with possible opportunities should he have to move. The building he rents is for sale.Some vacant properties apparently won’t remain that way for long. For example, Gran Farnum Printing is working to buy the site of the former Rock’n Star Ranch store near Rite-Aid and relocate from South Grand Avenue. Virginia Adducci is working with Hugo Galvan and Venessa Drai, a couple from Miami, to open a seafood and Cuban restaurant at the site of the former Adducci’s Bistro on Grand later this year. Grand Central Station, a mini-mall, has opened next to Sacred Grounds on Grand and is quickly filling up with tenants. Mike Kennedy, broker/owner of ReMax Mountain West in Carbondale, handled the Tamarack Building sale. He said interest in downtown seems to be on the upswing after a slowdown in recent years. He said he’s had more inquiries in leasing and buying downtown properties this year than in probably all of the last two years combined.He attributes that to a rebounding economy regionally, and more affordable property downvalley.Meanwhile, one unanswered question for the downtown real estate market and retail scene is what will be the long-term impact of Glenwood Meadows, with its big-box stores such as Target and Lowe’s along with a host of smaller retail outlets and restaurants. Stores began to open there late last year.Andrew McGregor, community development director for the city, said the hope has been that downtown would provide different enough offerings that it could survive and even thrive. Dennis Bader, owner of the Flower Mart on Sixth Street and vice president of the Downtown Business Association, senses that may be the case.”I think we’re doing OK downtown and actually in some areas we’ve improved,” he said.Tourists don’t come to Glenwood Springs to shop at Glenwood Meadows but to swim in the Hot Springs Pool and visit downtown, he said.The most optimistic downtown supporters are counting on the area actually seeing more traffic from people who shop at Glenwood Meadows but then go downtown while they’re in Glenwood Springs.Bader takes heart in the changes on his own block, on the north side of the Grand Avenue Bridge. Starting last year the area has seen the arrival of the Gear Exchange used sporting goods store, Mountain Sports Outlet, and a clothing store catering to Latinos.Bader also is encouraged after the city agreed to give the DBA $26,500 to pay a contractor to improve cleanup and maintenance efforts downtown this year. “At this point in time I think we’ve noticed a huge improvement,” he said.These may be small signs of hope for small downtown businesses that still struggle to pay the rent each month. But such struggles may simply come with running a small business.”It’s never easy. … You just have to work harder and make a niche,” McGovern said.For people such as Beham who face the challenge of running a business downtown, it helps to have a soft spot for Glenwood Springs and its business core, and thus a desire to succeed downtown and help make it better.”My friends are here. I still love it here,” he said.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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