Huge construction cranes dangle over some downtown streets, as workers build more apartments and condominiums. It’s estimated that 8,300 people now call downtown home, and that number is expected to climb to 10,000 by 2019.
Those downtown dwellers need everything from shoes to Charmin toilet paper, but it’s still hard for many to shop near their homes.
Developers often use the saying “retail chases rooftops,” but while apartment and condo buildings go up in downtown Columbus, retail still lags far behind. Some say that’s due in part to the need for more appropriate spaces.
Kacey Brankamp works with the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement Districts, a non-profit group of more than 500 downtown commercial and residential property owners. She says developers can do more to make the area more attractive to businesses.
“The primary challenge that we’ve seen is a lack of appropriate space for these retailers," Brankamp says. "So independent retailers need space that’s ready to lease in 'white box condition' that is clustered among other retail spaces, affordable and in an area where there’s foot traffic.”
For Spoonful Records on East Long Street, foot traffic has been a big driver of its success. Owner Brett Ruland started the shop between 3rd and 4th Streets during an even tougher time for downtown retail, seven years ago.
“Some people were surprised we would want to put the store downtown," Ruland says. "It wasn’t booming like it is now and every year it seems to have grown substantially.”
Ruland’s record store stands with a group of other establishments that include a tattoo parlor, a bike shop and a floral business.
“People go to the flower store and they’ll buy some flowers, then they’ll come down here and see what we have," Ruland says. "Or the tattoo parlor/gallery next door, Long Street Collective, we get a lot of people waiting for their friend to get a tattoo and that takes a while, so they’ll be in here looking at records. So it really has brought a lot of people in.”
On her first trip to Spoonful Records, Emily Estep scans the racks of vinyl. A Grove City resident, she says she often comes to eat at a downtown restaurant and wants to shop here more frequently.
“I just love the environment about it," Estep says. "It’s just really fun, with all the small shops and all the really nice people.”
There might be nice people, but it can be a mean environment for businesses. Last year, out of 15 new downtown businesses, eight failed.
Since 2009, 145 businesses have opened downtown, and more than a third have closed.
“Does it matter what kind of retail or what kind of restaurant is built that will determine whether or not it is successful? That’s a good question," says Sarah Dixon, owner of Jewel Weed flower shop. "I think with all retail, a good operator, a unique product, a good location, it’s a combination of things that makes one successful.”
Dixon opened the store on East Long Street more than a year ago, and says she can’t complain.
“We have a good range of downtown business, people who just walk in to buy bouquets for anniversaries, or birthdays," she says. "We deliver downtown. We deliver all over the metropolitan area.”
Brankamp remains optimistic. She says more than 200 retail and restaurant establishments serve downtown, and that number should continue to grow as they get better options for spaces.
“Highpoint at Columbus Commons has been one that has brought some nice ground floor retail space and it's seeing almost all of its ground floor space leased now," Brankamp says. "We’re also seeing some projects in that south High Street area, the 250 High project.”
Back on East Long Street, just one block east from the small retail shops, more housing construction is underway. Ruland says he just hopes that condos don’t force him to move his record shop.
“With all the growth downtown, you hope that there’s not going to be a point where they want to turn this into a condo," Ruland says. "That’s probably our biggest fear: That this nice block becomes something out of everybody’s price range.”