Ashley Dew gets ready for business at Light Years.
With a number of new restaurants on their way to Franklin St., it can sometimes feel like there’s a lot of turnover when it comes to where you want to grab a sandwich (or a waffle) during your lunch break.
But the point is that when one restaurant closes, another opens rather quickly. Franklin St. and the surrounding downtown district isn’t really struggling these days to fill unoccupied storefronts. In fact, downtown is at 95% capacity.
“I would say it’s on the upswing,” says Bobby Funk, assistant director of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership. “From a macro level, some places that have been unoccupied for a little while are opening up and redevelopments are happening, and I think on the whole we’re very much on the positive swing.”
In fact, space for lease is limited right now. On the Downtown Partnership’s website, only six retail spaces are available for lease aside from the redeveloped space in The Courtyard and the soon-to-open 140 West.
“There’s very few places that stay empty for long. That just reflects how much people are willing to get into these locations,” Funk says.
But for some, keeping downtown vibrant isn’t just about having occupied storefronts. Rather, it’s about having the right mix of storefronts.
So far, only food businesses have offered to lease the space, and Fox says he’s holding out for retail.
“We feel like there’s enough food service there to serve the population, so we’d just like to see more retail on the street,” Fox sys.
He’s hoping to see something like a bookstore or even a small grocery store occupy the 800-square-foot space.
Fox says he still has hope for downtown, but its continued success will depend on bringing shoppers to Franklin Street.
“There’s a perceived lack of parking, and I’m not sure that it’s as real as some people believe it is,” Fox says. “It’s amazing to me that you can go to Southpoint and they’ll walk a quarter of a mile to get into the mall, but they want to park right in front of the shop they want to go to downtown.”
The key, he says, is to just offer them something they can’t resist.
“We as owners need to do the best we can to get good people in there,” Fox says. TW