Do downtown businesses need to stay open later?
At the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) town hall meeting on August 16th, attendees were told two startling statistics. The first statistic is that 50% of money spent shopping, is spent after 5 pm (during the week) and on Sundays (all day). The second came up while the results of a survey given to Manchester downtown businesses were being discussed, that of the twenty-two of the downtown businesses that took the survey, fifteen of those businesses are closed on Sunday.
The first statistic came from consultant Robert Gibbs during his presentation to the DDA in late 2014 after he performed a retail market study of Manchester. Ray Berg, vice chairman of the DDA, recalled Gibbs’ message to Manchester’s business owners, ”Regardless of how you feel about Sunday being a ‘day of rest’, that is when American families do their shopping, because of their busy life styles, the current work environment, and other activities which occupy their time on the other days. Therefore, you must be open for business on Sunday. You must be open in the evenings, at least for the Wednesday-Saturday period. You can open later in the day, but being open until at least 8 pm is critical to catch people who work all day outside of Manchester.”
With this information, it would seem like a no-brainer that downtown businesses need to stay open later and open on weekends, but it is not that simple. Sue LaRocque, owner of River Raisin Antiques, relayed her experience at the DDA town hall. At the beginning of this summer she tried to stay open until 8 pm three nights a week and had no customers. She eventually moved her closing time up to 6 pm. Currently, 5 to 6 pm is her slowest time.
At the town hall meeting, Village President Pat Valliencort recounted her experience trying to get downtown businesses to stay open later on Thursdays in conjunction with the Farmers Market and Gazebo concerts last summer. She talked with business owners beforehand, and got them to agree, then applied for a grant from the Washtenaw County Tourism and Convention Bureau for funding for “Make it Manchester Thursdays.” After she received the grant, she went back to the merchants and almost no one would participate. When the opportunity for funding for the second year arose, Valliencort turned it down.
One type of business that seems to succeed with later hours in Manchester are hair salons. Linda Stevens, of the Village Hair Forum located in the Mill is one of the businesses that participated by staying open until 8 pm on Thursdays, which she still does. She has always had a positive experience staying open past 6 pm, but finds the later hours busier during the school year than in the summer. Tres Beau salon located on Main Street is also open to 8 pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and most Thursdays and Marti’s Salon, also on Main Street, offers late evening appointments.
LaRocque wants to try staying open later again on a smaller scale and in conjunction with other businesses. She is currently working with other downtown business owners to establish one evening a week during which businesses that aren’t usually open will stay open late through the holidays to help meet the needs of the community. “It’s currently in the planning stages, so suggestions are welcomed. So far, Thursday seems to be the night that best works with business owner’s schedules,” she stated. Stevens is supportive of the idea, “I think the more people get used to places being open later the more they’ll come.”
At the 2014 DDA meeting, Gibbs stated that he drove to Manchester on a Sunday afternoon, unannounced, and viewed our downtown dormant except for Frank’s Place, then drove to Dollar General. Dollar General was packed with Manchester people shopping on Sunday afternoon.
Would you shop downtown on Sundays or a weekday evening? Do you have an evening you would prefer, or an idea to improve costumer traffic during extended hours? Email LaRocque at email@example.com, or stop in River Raisin Antiques and let her know in person. Interested in the future of Manchester’s downtown in general? Come to the next DDA meeting on Wednesday, September 20th at 7:30 pm, in the Village Council chambers, 912 City Road (lower level).