“Slowly but surely, one business at a time, we can grow it into a thriving downtown,” says local realtor
A corner store at the south end of Jasper’s Main Street, former location of Main Street Fitness,
has been sitting empty for over a year now.
Since massive renovations in 1998 that sent unsightly utility lines underground and saw the installation of new sidewalks, trees and a top-dressing of fresh pavement, Jasper’s streetscape has remained pretty much the same; but the tapestry of businesses that line those streets has changed dramatically, with some familiar businesses going under or moving out of downtown, leaving several buildings vacant and in need of repair.
In late June “For Sale” signs went up across two prominent downtown buildings owned by local defense attorney George Weaver. The building at 61 North Main Street (which most recently housed the restaurant 61 Main before it relocated to the other end of downtown) is now on the market. Also the building at 57 South Main Street, (formerly Main Street Fitness) is for sale after sitting empty for several years.
City officials say there would be a tremendous benefit to all of downtown if these buildings were back in action, as well as the former NAPA building on the corner of Main Street and Church Street, currently owned by Community Bank of Pickens County.
All three of these buildings are similarly valued, according to Pickens County tax records which list the appraised values as $225,215 (61 Main); $227,848 (57 Main) and $231,384 (2 North Main).
“If I had a choice anywhere in Jasper to put a business, I swear I’d still pick Main Street,” said Mayor John Weaver.
Weaver’s comments are hopeful considering the weekend closing of long-time downtown retailer Main Street Clothing. Despite also being a Main Street staple, Nan’s Hallmark, directly beside Main Street Clothing, closed a couple of years earlier, leaving a long stretch of empty storefronts.
When asked what type of businesses would be best suited for downtown, Weaver said Main Street must cater to the needs of the courthouse and its employees and visitors.
“We’re still feeling the effects of the county moving the administration building out of downtown,” Weaver said. “The walking traffic is what you want.
The mayor said his plan to link neighboring subdivisions with downtown via a series of trails for bikes and golf carts could recharge downtown.
“Main Street still has a lot to offer,” he said. “Over the next few years we intend to open trails up to downtown for biking and golf carts so a lot of these subdivisions will have a unique path to downtown.”
The mayor said once renovations are complete on the courthouse and construction traffic is out of the way, the city plans to host another Main Street Mania downtown featuring an evening of live music and entertainment.
Weaver also pointed out that the building which formerly housed the Crust/Sidebar restaurants is vacant.
“Maybe someone will open that up once the courthouse is finished,” he said. “I’d love to see those restaurants open back up. I can’t wait to see it when there’s no parking left on Main Street.”
Local realtor Joanna Kearns with Century 21, who has one listing for a downtown building, said she sees opportunity for Jasper’s revitalization.
“Right now our downtown offers great opportunity for new businesses,” she said. “With the newly remodeled courthouse, the traffic volume and some very successful businesses already established, Jasper definitely has the potential to be a thriving downtown.”
Kearns said the amount of available space you now see downtown is a result of both the economic climate over the past few years and the mind set that businesses need to be on the highway.
“I do think it’s going to have to be a joint effort of the people who live here and the businesses to come together and find that draw and support it to make it successful,” she said.
Kearns said it doesn’t look good to have too many vacant spaces downtown but the opportunity is there for start-up businesses because rents are often cheaper on Main Street than along the highway.
“Slowly but surely, one business at a time we can grow it into a thriving downtown,” she said.
Economic Developer Gerry Nechvatal said he too believes in a downtown with unique and thriving retail shops and restaurants. Nechvatal said the key might be finding the right type of business with a unique appeal not found in large box stores.
“If you look at other communities, other models, certainly when your downtown businesses leave and transition to other areas of commerce the trend in the downtown goes into interesting restaurants, interesting retail – something not found in chains on the interstate.”
The problem now, he said, is lack of consumer confidence. “People are very cautious about their expenditures and the retail market is still fairly weak,” he said. “An individual looking to open a business faces a difficult decision.”
The economic development expert said people interested in opening their own business must decide whether it’s a safe investment for their life savings.
“There’s a lot of decisions and a lot of risk there, regardless if you are looking downtown or on the interstate,” he said.
Regardless, Nechvatal said the courthouse renovation has come out wonderfully and Jasper’s downtown is very attractive and can draw people in.
“But I do think we need more establishments to bring more people into downtown,” he said.
Nechvatal said he has worked with one individual who “entertained doing something in the old NAPA building but the cost of renovation on some of these buildings does make it difficult.”