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VOL. 118 | NO. 172 | Wednesday, September 22, 2004

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South Main Has Monthly Glimmer

South Main Seeks to Increase its Draw

Stakeholders in arts district want more restaurants, visitors


The Daily News

Friday marks a milestone of sorts for the South Main Arts District. Its the four-year anniversary of what has become a staple for the area: the monthly Friday Night Art Trolley Tour.

And though the date might go unnoticed by many trolley tour regulars, its importance is felt by retailers and other business owners in the neighborhood.

That has been our single best marketing effort, because very often youll have people visiting from Collierville, Germantown, East Memphis, Cordova, and plus the regular Midtown and Downtown people, said Jay Etkin, artist and owner of Jay Etkin Gallery at 409 S. Main St. The energy of hundreds and hundreds of people is very uplifting.

Everyday destination. However, while Memphians from across the Metro area frequent the event that occurs the last Friday of every month, the foot traffic from that event is not being sustained day-to-day.

And thats the ultimate goal of stakeholders in the district, to have a residential, retail and business district that is a true destination every day of the week.

Business owners are mixed on what it could take to establish the area as a well-known Downtown destination for locals and tourists. More residents in the district, more retail offerings, coffee shops and relocated businesses are among their ideas. But business owners seem to all agree on one need more restaurants.

It doesnt have to be upscale, but it has to be indicative of the area, said Katrina Shelton, president of the South Main Association and part-owner of Signature Designs at 508 S. Main. You would want something visually interesting with a good price point. One of those places you could go to in jeans or have someone come in with a tux.

Restaurants, restaurants, restaurants are needed, because it creates a destination for people to come and hang out.

Consistent draw. The district is a destination in and of itself, especially on trolley tour nights. But offering destinations within the district is key to its growth, business owners said.

We dont have any big anchors Muse and Gestures, theyre staple anchors that are always open but we dont have some of those places that bring people consistently, said Ryan Hamlin, owner of Etched Art at 505 S. Main.

Hamlin said a local hangout, such as a coffee bar, would be a good addition to South Main.

Building awareness. One of the problems the district faces is that it still lives in relative obscurity to many Memphians.

If asked on the street, the average citizen likely doesnt realize there is an arts district just a few blocks south of The Orpheum, Etkin said. Even tourists, despite the fact that brochures marketing the district are placed in hotels around the city, arent aware of the districts presence.

I was standing with a gentleman in The Arcade. I said, Did you know youre in the middle of an arts district? He didnt have a clue, Etkin said. Its amazing you can be in the neighborhood and not know youre in the neighborhood.

Street signs, maybe even a decorative entrance to the district, would be a great help, Etkin said.

I hope the city to a greater extent will embrace what were doing down here, Etkin said. Beyond sports and Beale Street, were a very significant part of Downtown, and sometimes were not included in the marketing of Downtown. From my point of view, as somebody in the arts for 33 years, I think thats a great loss for the city, for tourists to come to the city and not know there is an arts district Downtown.

Important night. Every month, trolley night is a festive event. Its about giving art lovers an opportunity to enjoy locally produced art while simultaneously giving business owners a chance to make a sale.

Those sales and the return visits to the district they ensure are vitally important to the sustenance of South Main businesses.

There are sales, Shelton said. Some months it can be a record-breaker, and then other months you maybe make a sale. But I think whats important is that people do come back from the trolley night.

Hamlin, who opened Etched Art last year, agreed.

It has really worked out in the long run for me, meaning months later, he said. I had a lady in from FedEx in November. This May, they bought a bunch of stuff for awards. Somebody comes in, theyre building a house, and six months later they want me to do a shower door for them.

Pedestrian community. While cars are welcome in the area, the fact that many of the 1,600 South Main residents are driving somewhere else to shop and go to work isnt an ideal scenario for the district.

The problem with the foot traffic now is were far enough away (from the core of Downtown) that people are still in the morning getting in their cars to go to work, Hamlin said. Down in the center of Downtown, you have a lot more residents park in the parking garages, and they may walk to work or take the trolley to work and they can stop at the businesses down there.

I think we could get more lunch business. There are not a lot of employers in South Main, and it would be nice to see it. That would really increase the lunchtime crowd and people wanting to shop before they head home.

For Etkin, a New York City native, walking several blocks from point A to point B is no big deal. Creating a pedestrian mentality would help the district, he believes. He thinks that will happen as more residents move to the South Main area.

Adding life to the district. But greater foot traffic doesnt necessarily mean more art sales.

The average citizen in most cities typically doesnt go to art galleries, so its not a kind of thing that just because you have people on the street, they will visit your gallery, Etkin said. Its a destination. People come here because they have an interest in art or theyre an artist. Its not the casual everyday tourist.

But having a neighborhood that is lively with stores, with boutiques, with restaurants, cafes, bakeries if you come to a neighborhood where there is life and street activity with tables that are out, it livens your experience and your connection with the neighborhood.


PROPERTY SALES 0 133 1,342
MORTGAGES 0 131 1,047