Heather Schroeder, economic development program manager for the Downtown Committee of Syracuse, sat across the table at Recess Coffee’s Montgomery Street location on a mild January day. The appropriate weather enticed city workers to enjoy a pre-work walk, as they ambled past the java joint’s large windows.
Window shopping is an essential part of any downtown experience, whether the central destination is city, a town or village. Having a window display gives a potential consumer an opportunity to get a preview of what lies beyond the door, and sometimes this happens before sidewalk strollers notice a business name.
The urban community-focused Downtown Committee has been on a mission with three monthlong pop-up opportunities and participatory window art to fill this mid-sized city with businesses. A full city is a more attractive city, because having more enticing options gives people a reason to keep visiting, even after the collegiate sports seasons.
Part of Schroeder’s job is to scope out the downtown landscape for vacant properties. “I first counted 70,” she said about her tally, “and now there are about 20 fewer.”
The initiatives are modeled after what businesses have been doing in Dayton, Ohio. The cities are similar, despite Dayton being double the size of Syracuse and bearing a slightly population.
“We play matchmaker,” said Schroeder. With interested business owners looking to set up shop for the three-month trial run, the committee works as an in-between for the entrepreneurs and building managers.
One prime example is Vintage Love, 201 E. Jefferson St., a vintage home décor and women’s clothing store co-owned by Shauna Diliberto and Susan Hodell. After a successful run, the duo decided to take up a permanent spot.
The requirements are that the relocating businesses must have proven sales records and should be unique to Syracuse. Building managers must have a vacant, renovated and up-to-code ground-floor spaces where possible shops could open. After the 90 days are up, business owners and the managers have the option of negotiating a long-term lease.
In a 2016 survey, the Downtown Committee asked residents what retail options they would like to see. The list included local college apparel and sporting goods stores, bookstores, newsstands, toy stores, tailor or seamstress shops, a jazz club, a dog park, movie theaters and much more.
A privately owned or small business is something that is embraced. Business owners often speak of their Central New York origins. Keeping this in mind, they are confident they can establish a close-knit relationship with their customers.
“Customer service is something that can lack in the retail world. We do supply this in these small boutiques in downtown Syracuse,” said Kathie Morris, owner of the Changing Room, 425 S. Warren St. “The changes on this street have been amazing,” she added.
Morris opened her Changing Room business six years ago at 25 Syracuse St. in Baldwinsville. Yet the growth of the downtown urban center attracted Morris to open a second location on Warren Street, which has been in business for three years. She and her husband also changed residence from Baldwinsville to enjoy the downtown lifestyle.
“It’s low risk on both sides,” said Schroeder. “It gives businesses the opportunity to get their foot in the downtown door and not break the bank.” Prior to this initiative, and working with the city’s codes enforcement department, there weren’t any options for short-term leasing storefronts.
Art in the Windows and Window Wonderland are two current initiatives run by the Downtown Committee to raise the aesthetic ante of Syracuse. Both have been supported through grants from the Central New York Community Foundation.
The Winter Wonderland contest, which ran from Nov. 25 to the first of the year, featured 22 businesses. After tallying the 825 votes, the Changing Room took first place and a $500 prize. Vintage Love came in second, winning a $250 prize. And Olive on Brooklea, 116 W. Jefferson St., took third place, receiving $100. This is also the specialty olive oil and balsamic vinegar store’s second location.
“It’s not about winning, but it’s about getting people excited. I’ve heard so many positive things from people walking down the street,” said Morris. Especially on warmer days throughout the year, keeping the door open yields more conversation, even if it is a simple hello.
The first Art in the Windows installation will be running this Thursday, Jan. 26, through April 15, with juried artists chosen to display their art throughout the downtown area. Maya Alam and Daniele Profeta’s installments will be shown at the Flagship Securities Building, 20 E. Genesee St., and along the Pike Block, 320-326 S. Salina St. Sean Horan’s work will be viewed at the Chimes Building, 500 S. Salina St., along the Onondaga Street storefront side and at Pike Block, 308-312 along S. Salina St. Syracuse Poster Project will return to the U.S. Post Office at 444 S. Salina St.
Schroeder also boasted that the Downtown Committee’s Progress Breakfast in March will focus on downtown revitalization with an emphasis on arts and culture. For more information, visit downtownsyracuse.com, or call 470-1958.
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