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VOL. 118 | NO. 6 | Friday, January 9, 2004

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South Main Shops Wait Out Slow Season

Gallery, store owners wait for Christmas in July


The Daily News

To close out a year marked by retail development and stepped-up marketing efforts, store owners in the South Main Arts District were pleased overall with the 2003 holiday season.

"A lot of the shops did terrific," said South Main Association marketing director George Bryant. "But its always in pockets."

One pocket that did not do so well was the gallery scene on South Main. However, according to one owner, its expected that the holiday season wont generate a lot of business for galleries offering high-dollar pieces.

A little better. Despite less-than-desirable sales in the gallery sector, other retailers in the district did a little better in 2003 than in years past. Business at gift store Gestures increased by 30 percent over the holiday season, said owner Kim Jameson.

"Sales were much stronger over last years holiday season, and foot traffic increased," said Jameson, who attributes her stores successful season to the wide array of affordable gifts the store offers.

The Charcoal Store saw a sales increase as well after publicizing a 50 percent off sale, said owner Pert Whitehead.

"Overall, we had a good December, but we had to kick in a sale," Whitehead said.

His store has been in the district for almost five years, during which holiday traffic hasnt seen much of an increase, he said.

"Since Sept. 11, the economy has softened and business has gone down with it, Whitehead said. The last two or three years have been slower."

Sales and foot traffic were about the same this year as last year, said Tonic owner and South Main Association president Katrina Shelton.

"A few weeks before Christmas, sales really picked up, and we got a lot more traffic," she said.

Not peak season. Although some businesses had a typical holiday retail season and experienced an increase in sales, the second half of the year is not the districts peak season, Bryant said. Over the past few years, the South Main Arts Festival, held each year the last Saturday in April, and the Art Trolley Tours held the last Friday of every month but more heavily trafficked during spring and summer months have taken the forefront as far as sales and traffic are concerned.

With that in mind, though, the association stepped up efforts this year to plan events for the later part of the year, including the holiday season.

One particularly successful event was in the early fall, when the association and its retailers hosted a sidewalk sale Bryant said produced "over-the-top results." Another such sale is in the works for the spring, he said.

The Sunday after Thanksgiving, the association hosted an old-fashioned Christmas celebration for patrons, complete with characters taking to the streets to tell Christmas stories, Bryant said. The event took place the same day as a Grizzlies game and the Downtown Neighborhood Associations open house, producing an incredible amount of foot traffic, he added.

"That was the best day in Arcades history," he said. "And at Gestures, they couldnt wait on people fast enough."

The big event. Although that event proved to be a success, Bryant said it was just a filler while the big event to come is still in the planning stages. Next year, the association plans to join with other Downtown organizations to host the now-named Holly Jolly Trolley Parade, a parade that will involve the traditional participants, such as high school marching bands, but will follow the trolley line and involve professionally decorated trolleys.

One new attempt at attracting customers that failed was having shops stay open late on Thursday nights during the holiday season. Bryant said association members thought the event would appeal to Downtown workers, but "it didnt go over well at all."

Optimism for 2004. With the FedExForum opening and an increase in tourist traffic, Bryant has an optimistic outlook for the new year. Goals for the association in 2004 include establishing consistent store operating hours and leasing the retail space previously occupied by Teak Imports.

"Every year it gets a little bit better," Bryant said. "Were becoming better known as the arts district, and were seen more from the tourists side."

Help needed. However, Art Village Gallery owner Ephraim Urevbus outlook is not quite as chipper. What the district needs, he said, is the citys help.

"In most cities, the art district is heavily backed by the city because it shows the creative class and attracts major corporations with young, talented employees," he said. "But thats not so in Memphis. Its all individual effort, and the city needs to form a partnership to help."

The holiday season was not a good one from Urevbus perspective. He saw so little foot traffic in the district over the holidays that he simply closed up shop from Christmas to New Years.

"The street was really dead," Urevbu said. "There are a lot of businesses down here, but I dont know how they can hang on."

Jay Etkin of Jay Etkin Gallery noted that the gallery business is not oriented to gift buying."

"We had a few good sales, but typically you dont buy a $1,000 or $2,000 painting for a friend for Christmas," he said.

Waiting for sunshine. Etkin said as far as traffic goes, the 2003 holiday season was steady for his gallery compared with years past. But what hes really waiting for are the warm-weather months the citys busy tourism season.

What were doing down here what were attracting is a lot of Downtown tourist traffic, Etkin said. Tourist traffic is one of the critical issues that has been beneficial to me down here, and to the other galleries. We didnt see that when I had my business in Midtown. But I have certainly seen it week in and week out down here on South Main.


PROPERTY SALES 36 154 6,546
MORTGAGES 34 94 4,129
BUILDING PERMITS 201 554 15,915
BANKRUPTCIES 43 126 3,396