Ottawa’s Main Street has been in the spotlight in recent weeks as business owners grapple with the problem associated with the water line project that has limited parking for months and the coming construction of Legacy Square that will take away some parking spots already being used.
But through the parking headaches, Main Street as a whole is thriving and offers many different options for shoppers. Lenni Giacin, Ottawa Main Street Association director, said the businesses she represents are looking forward with growth in mind, but still have hurdles to overcome.
“It seems positive,” she said. “It seems like the businesses want to stay. The ones that have started in the last two-and-a-half years since I have been here, they want to stay where they are at and they want to grow and prosper. It’s hard to get people downtown. We have tried many different avenues, a Main Street page, sponsoring things, getting events down here. We try to keep things local so when we have events, we have the local people there. But it’s hard to get people to go to events because they are so busy and there is so much going on.”
Giacin said events have been planned in the past but most Main Street businesses have limited hours on the weekend and they compete with many other activities.
“We have events on Saturday but if you don’t have it in a certain window, you don’t get the crowds,” she said. “The gist of it is trying to get people to stay open during the hours when people from out of town can come and visit and spend money to keep them in business.
The coming construction of Legacy Square, an outdoor event center, brings many economic possibilities for downtown business owners. The $4.2 million project is set to break ground at First and Walnut this week. Giacin said business owners have been excited about this project since it was first presented two years ago. The project, she said, will help bring excitement to the downtown, something that’s needed to help businesses grown.
“I think they are all thinking that this is what we talked about two years ago,” she said. “They want people to bring business here to town and they want a quality of life when they are here. You have to come up with the right events. You need the nice restaurants and you need the right events, whether that’s music afterwards. Getting all that together has been the issue.”
The biggest issue facing business owners on Main Street is limited parking. Most businesses have three to four spaces directly on Main Street with city parking on lots around the downtown. Giacin said even before construction starts on Legacy Square, parking has been a concern.
“I think a lot are trying to park off of Main, away from their front door so customers can park there,” she said. “That’s what they are trying to do for themselves. The water pipe issue is still going on and that’s still causing issues because they may not think a business is open if there is a big machine right in front of them. I know that we have a lot of public parking spaces, but people don’t like to walk, no matter how much you try to promote it. Especially in cold weather or if it rains, or if you have a disability, people just don’t like to walk that far if you’re here in town and trying to shop.”
To remedy the situation, Giacin said businesses are joining together to promote events and specials. She said business rely on working with others to do something special.
“It’s a group effort,” she said. “Main Street does a lot of advertising for everybody downtown. We try to promote everybody off their Facebook or if they are sharing different ideas we try to promote that If there’s a pop-up store happening we try to get in on that because people need to know where they are at. One of our main goals is to promote our members mainly, we try to promote the whole downtown.
Downtown businesses offer a variety of products and Giacin said that variety can help as businesses all have something unique to offer.
“I think it’s important,” she said. “We try to target the antique stores because that was such a big part of Ottawa for a long time. We have four antique stores so we are trying to tie it all together.”
Event with the challenges, store fronts are filling up in the downtown area. Giacin said while there are still some store fronts vacant, she still fields calls from potential businesses and there are only a limited number of spaces available.
Downtown shopping changed drastically over the years. Just 30 or 40 years ago, the downtown area was much busier and was the center of commerce for the city.
“It’s changed a lot,” she said. “When I was younger, it was a busy place. There was JC Penny which was a huge clothing store, Woolworths was across the street so that drew people. There was a 5-and-Dime on the corner and lots of little places to eat. There was a Waymire’s grocery store by the bridge. You just knew everybody would come to shop on a Saturday. More people were out and about because they didn’t come to town all the time. They didn’t always live here or shop here all the time.”
One of the biggest changes is the shopping that can be done online. Giacin said many local businesses can supplement their income by selling outside of the area.
“It’s helped some of the online businesses like the soap store, they have an online presence and they sell and ship online, and so does Maggies,” she said. “They have to because they are unique enough and have their own identity. If they didn’t have that, they might not make it.”