BURLINGTON, N.C. (WGHP) — A Burlington business has closed its doors, and city leaders are using it as motivation to find new ways to bring people downtown.
Locally-owned shops make up the heart of the area. But they can’t survive without customers.
“You can walk around,” said Emily Lewis, who owns multiple buildings in downtown Burlington. “There are murals downtown. There’s a sculpture downtown. Everything is here that you need to make your store front and center.”
Lewis believes downtown Burlington has almost everything a business owner needs to be successful. Everything except the customers.
“One of the struggles we have downtown is just getting people to change their routines,” she said. “Getting them to sit back and think ‘what is something different that I can do? What is some new place in my own county I can explore?'”
That lack of curiosity forced Lewis and her husband Casey to permanently close their grocery store and food counter, Carolina Sundries, after less than five months.
“We really were hoping that it would be an added value and provide a diversity of experience for downtown,” Lewis said.
Boarded-up windows and closed signs cover doors at several downtown shops. If you go one block over, it’s a completely different story.
“East Front Street in downtown Burlington is doing well,” Lewis said. “We have a lot of businesses along there, a lot of restaurants and things to do.”
The area’s grid layout poses a challenge. The Lewises have tried to bring life to other parts of downtown, purchasing three buildings on South Spring Street and opening an art gallery.
“Our intent is to build this block,” Lewis said. “To make another connection in the downtown, so we can kind of bridge these areas together to make eventually a nice well-rounded downtown.”
Downtown Burlington Corporation is brainstorming new ideas to attract visitors. That includes a free shuttle service to take people to and from downtown to the Sock Puppets baseball games.
“Taking that shuttle and maybe having dinner before you go or drinks before you go or drinks when you get back,” said Erin Nettles, the corporation’s manager.
The organization has doubled the number of shows at the Paramount Theater this year. Long-term, the theater will get a $4.5 million expansion. All this is an effort to keep businesses open and people wanting to come and explore.
“I don’t think people realize how much is changing downtown,” Lewis said. “There are a lot of new little things popping up that make our county a lot more interesting. It’s just you have to take an interest.”
The Downtown Burlington Corporation is working on a new initiative to target people who don’t normally make a trip to downtown Burlington. Leaders plan to roll that out later this summer.