Wow! Yesterday was a beautiful Monday, 65 degrees and nothing but sunny skies. Being downtown it was terrific to see so many people out and about. Couples of all ages walking along holding hands, parents pushing strollers, restaurants with their tables full outside, people walking their dogs and a couple of musicians with their hat out trying to make a living. I’m telling you after the cold winter months and all that’s been going on with Covid it was so refreshing to see all the activity. Rutland? No, absolutely not. Church Street in Burlington. I had been skiing for the day in Stowe and then had to run a bit north of Burlington to do an errand. After my errand instead of rushing back to Stowe where I was staying overnight I made the decision to go walk the Burlington downtown and especially Church Street. Ask yourself, when was the last time you ever went out of your way to spend some time meandering around downtown Rutland? My guess would be rarely? Never?
Today, Tuesday, it was just as beautiful a day as Monday with temps in the 60s. I had to pick up a pizza across from the Howe Center on my way home so I drove down Center Street about the same time, midafternoon as my visit to Church Street. There was not one single person on the south sidewalk and two, only two people chatting on the full extent of the north sidewalk. Two people outside on the whole block of Center Street on a magnificent day. Sad. Frankly, more than sad, how about depressing. On the front page of the Herald on March 6 there was a picture of Lexi Heding and her dog Thea enjoying a walk on the north sidewalk of Center Street one afternoon. If you took a good look you would have noticed not one other person anywhere to be seen.
My father and mother were in the women’s clothing business at various locations in the D.C./Maryland area. My father had a great knack for finding excellent locations. I still remember when he shared one of his secrets, lots of foot traffic. It’s all about foot traffic. Let me repeat that again, lots of foot traffic.
As you know there is an embarrassing amount of empty store fronts in downtown Rutland. Why would a smart business person that relies on foot traffic to see their goods on display in their storefront windows decide to open a store in downtown Rutland? Downtown Rutland sorely misses the boat on foot traffic, especially on Center Street. Or even Merchants Row. They wouldn’t.
This fact is a huge detriment to ever filling up these empty storefronts. Remember when Bonnie Hawley decided to close up her flower shop? Her main reason was because of the lack of foot traffic coming through her door. She moved out and went to delivery only setting up out of the downtown.
Think about it, how many of these types of businesses are located downtown? Just a few. Surely not enough to make meandering around downtown worthwhile.
Many are food-oriented or sell goods or services that persons are looking for specifically and make a special trip to these locations for those specific needs. And after getting the purpose of their visit out of the way they head home.
Why stay, there’s nothing going on?
A lot of you know by now I am a huge proponent of closing down Center Street to traffic. Yes, there have been just a few letters commending what was done down on Center Street this past summer. So for you few let’s try to look at this issue in a different light.
Now, my retail experience goes back over 50 years beginning with working with my parents. My last 25 was as the retail director at Okemo before I retired six years ago. The one thing I always did after the winter season was over was to always try to come up with ideas to improve the possibility of doing more business. Staying the same was never good enough. Never!
So for the ones of you that did take advantage of the limited outdoor seating on Center Street this past summer let me propose this to you: Wouldn’t it have been even more enjoyable not to have any cars and delivery trucks and the occasional motorcycle going by while you were dining?
If people were able to walk in the middle of a closed street would it not have been nice not to have the barriers separating dining from the traffic to do some people watching while you dined.
Wouldn’t letting the food establishments use the sidewalk plus expand a bit further onto the street be nice.
A place for some street musicians.
Some interesting food and/or artisan kiosks.
I could go on and on.
I read in the Herald about Steve Peters taking a new job at the Rutland Co-op. In the article Shannon Poole stated that Peters “saw downtown as not just solely downtown, but as the core to Rutland and the Rutland community, so success for downtown was a success for the whole community.” So why has there been no noticeable progress over the years to bring some vibrancy to the downtown? If anything it’s gone in the other direction.
Later in the article it stated that Peters was looking forward to applying some of his ideas about how businesses downtown can get people through their front doors.
Good grief, you can’t get them through the doors if they aren’t there to go through the doors.
I will never understand what’s so hard to understand. The biggest comment I hear when talking to others about Rutland is “Nothing ever changes.”
No changes, no improvements means stagnation. Downtown Rutland remains stagnant. Is it going to be same ol’, same ol’ again for another year and another year after that? Let’s hope not.
The mayor when he was up for reelection stated that the empty storefronts were a major issue for him to address. Let’s see if the mayor along with the other organizations in charge of adding some vibrancy to a tired downtown get it in gear. At this point, I don’t know what to think.