08/31/08 — Downtown businesses say area is safe but offerings limited

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Downtown businesses say area is safe but offerings limited

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on August 31, 2008 10:53 AM

Downtown business owners are echoing statements made by the city's chief of police and Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. -- downtown streets are safe.

But they also say that a lack of vibrancy, image and parking issues and limited offerings might be keeping people away.

The comments came in response to a recent DGDC survey, which queried residents on their view of downtown and how often they use it.

The survey results showed residents did not use downtown often -- and the reason they cited for making other shopping and dining choices was primarily safety.

Phil Bedford, who owns the Family Shoe Store on Walnut Street, said he enjoys having his business in the downtown area.

He has been there for 45 years, and he said he has never had any problems.

"I have never once had a customer who had a purse snatched or been assaulted or anything like that," he said. "Years ago, you might have seen a panhandler, but there aren't any of those around now."

Still, he said, the common perception is that the area is full of crime.

"Everybody's thinking about the past," he said.

But he wasn't surprised to learn residents still think that way.

"I knew what the perception was, but I also knew the facts and statistics," he said.

The downtown area has the lowest crime statistic in the city, and even 10 to 15 years ago, there weren't any problems, he said.

But, then again, he said he hasn't seen an increase in business in the past couple of years either.

"We have been maintaining," he said.

And he doesn't feel the downtown events help his business because, he said, people who attend the events come to the area specifically for the event and "then they go home."

"It doesn't add to our business. It just helps the restaurants," he said.

Some of the survey results did surprise him a bit, however, like how most of the respondents rated the quality of goods poorly.

"We sell all the name brands here," he said. "And the other retail shops in town sell quality items."

But he said he does believe the area has an issue with parking -- one that is only going to get worse.

"We already have a parking problem downtown, and now that the county is moving into that (Jeffreys) building, the employees are going to take up more of the parking spaces," he said. "They aren't supplying parking. They are just going to have to use what's there. Those people may shop with us some, but if they park in those spots the whole day, they are taking them away from our customers."

J.B. Rhodes owns a floral shop -- All About Flowers -- across the street from the shoe store. He has never had any problems with crime either, he said.

In fact, he enjoys having his business in the downtown area so much that he is planning to open another business right next door.

"It's not the safest place in the world, but what place is?" he asked. "The daytime is safe. The police station is right there. But at night, nothing is safe. No business is safe at night.

"At the end of the day, I feel totally safe doing my business downtown."

He admits that some of the areas of downtown are rundown, and those might be what people see when they think of the area. But, he said, the situation won't get better without help. He said he feels the DGDC is working in the right direction to improve it.

"If a lot of people, like me, invest in downtown, we could make it a better place," Rhodes said. "I'm very satisfied with my downtown business."

Like many of those who responded to the DGDC's survey, he would like to see more downtown -- more to do, more restaurants and more for the younger crowd.

"The downtown area needs something more for youths," he said. "If you get the youths to come downtown, the parents will follow."

Sal Coppola, who owns Pupetta's Bar and Grill on Center Street, said he doesn't consider Goldsboro's downtown a high crime spot either, but he doesn't see a whole lot of people coming to the area for more than a bite to eat.

"I don't see anything dangerous," he said. "I saw more on William Street (the restaurant's previous location) than I do here. There are homeless people, but they aren't dangerous."

He says the problem with the downtown area is more about what there is to do, or lack thereof -- a mindset that is also prevalent among survey respondents.

"People who come here, they come here to eat, and then go home," he said. "There needs to be a nice walking area where people can walk or jog or ride bicycles to bring people downtown."

Another problem with the area, he said, is that there are attractive places next to rundown ones.

"There is not this nice continuous place. There is a nice painted place right next to a crackhouse," he said.

But with a vibrant and appealing downtown, Coppola would also like to see more variety and parking.

Overall, he said, it's the quality of people who come downtown that makes all the difference.

"You have to bring the right people down here," he said. "If you have a store that sells $2.99 clothing, you will get people that buy $2.99 clothing."

Other downtown business owners made the same comments -- the downtown area is not dangerous place, but it isn't as well attended as it should be, and that they would like to see more greenery, better signage and more enthusiastic energy to the area that many feel should be the cultural center of the city.