Businesses show support for Hemming

Neighboring Downtown retailers see impact from lack of programming

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  • | 12:00 p.m. August 19, 2016
The second annual Hemming Park Beer Festival drew hundreds of people Downtown.
The second annual Hemming Park Beer Festival drew hundreds of people Downtown.
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Business hasn’t been as good for retailers around Hemming Park in recent months.

Sales have been down for several businesses. Families that often came in to nearby restaurants and retailers have largely disappeared.

Sure, it’s been oppressively hot at times, but the timing also coincides with another occurrence: When the Friends of Hemming Park cut back on events at the Downtown venue.

The group that’s managed Hemming Park for nearly two years did so because it was running out of money. But the ancillary effect was felt by some surrounding retailers.

Jennifer O’Donnell, manager of Chamblin’s Uptown, told a City Council committee Wednesday that when owner Ron Chamblin purchased the building in 2006 the park was “pretty scary.”

But after Friends starting programming the park, sales picked up. More families and children are frequenting, too.

Next door at Magnificat Café, co-owner Kathy Desclefs saw similar trends. But they’ve largely disappeared in recent months.

She and her husband, Benoit, have owned the spot for close to 13 years. They’d like to see the park get back to the changes made just after Friends took it over in September 2014.

“Whatever they did, worked,” she said Wednesday afternoon.

A couple parcels away, the owners of Mochi Misk’i brownie shop also said they’ve seen a dramatic dip in traffic since May.

“If you don’t have as many events, you don’t have as much traffic,” said Pilar Langthon, who opened the shop with her sister, Helga, in January.

The talk of the business impact arose Wednesday during the council Finance Committee, which voted 4-1 to provide Friends with $58,000 to continue operations until October.

It was the final hurdle before a Tuesday full council vote and comes weeks after increased scrutiny on how the nonprofit has managed a $1 million contract it received to turn the park around.

Now, restrictions have been put in place by council as to how Friends can use the money. Programming dollars will have to be privately raised.

Liz Ernest, co-owner of The Candy Apple Café adjacent to the park, told the committee the restaurant has seen a decline in business the past few months due to the lack of programming.

The restaurant and park have a “very symbiotic relationship” when the park is properly programmed. That happened in the restaurant’s first year of business in 2014.

“Keeping the relationship in the direction it was heading is super important,” she said.

Ernest said other small business owners told her they wanted to follow her restaurant Downtown, but have been having second thoughts since the recent bureaucratic turmoil.

Peter Behringer, owner of Sweet Pete’s that shares the former Seminole Club building with the Candy Apple, also told the committee of his support for Friends.

“When there is a lack of programming,” he said “… the business suffers.”

Council member Bill Gulliford he’d like to hear from nearby business owners who are impacted by the park at future Hemming Park special council committee meetings.

For Mochi Misk’i and other retailers along the strip of Laura Street, business has suffered to the point where owners will meet next week to talk about what can be done to help.

Bill Prescott, Friends’ interim CEO, said the legislation provides assurances that programming can be scheduled.

There was a beer festival Saturday and music and dance festivities are planned in September.

It’s likely welcome news for those surrounding businesses that have begun wilting under more than just the summer heat.

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