It’s been less than a year since I first stepped into the doors at 133 S. Gay Street. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but what I found was a new friend who’d just moved here from Philadelphia. The store was Style of Civilization and I commented that the 100 block of Gay Street seemed to finally be hitting its stride.
Nina Phalen sent me a message yesterday to tell me she is closing the doors to Style of Civilization after an inventory liquidation sale which will start this Saturday. She told me there was no need to be sad and I admire her for that. I hope to meet with her this weekend for a conversation about downtown business in general and the challenges that she faced with her venture. I’m also interested to know what to expect next from this driven and creative person I’ve come to call a friend.
When any downtown business fails, I’m disappointed. I pull for them all but, of course, downtown is not immune from the fact that a very large percentage of new businesses fail. We’ve recently had two others close their doors, as well. Southland Lakefront and Mountain Properties which I wrote about in November of 2012, closed its doors just over a week ago, leaving their storefront vacant for the moment on the 500 block of Union Avenue.
I also learned this weekend that Creativity Central at Emory Place, which I profiled at its opening last February, closed its doors at the end of January. My friend Brooke Milanovich, who owned and operated the store, told me she struggled to keep steady students and wasn’t as happy with having to do the non-creative, business parts of the job as she’d perhaps imagined she would be.
But the closure of Style of Civilization hurts in ways other than the personal. Style of Civilization sold shoes. We seem to do far better downtown at opening successful bars and restaurants than stores that sell things we need for daily life – like clothing. A number of people, including Jack Neely and myself, have noted that downtown could easily come to be seen as nothing more than an entertainment district for the surrounding areas, with limited provision for amenities residents need for simple daily activities. These would include clothing, hardware, computers, cell phones, and a drug store, among others.
Additionally, it stings for the 100 Block. After enduring so much just a few years ago with all the work that had to be done to the block, it seemed poised for great success. And certainly, there are some successful businesses on the block. But it’s never felt quite like it has fulfilled its promise. A dress shop, a cafe, a restaurant and now a shoe store have failed to survive in the time since the reconstruction.
Part of the blame must lie with the urban demolition that produced Summit Hill Drive. Not only does it present a dangerous barrier to pedestrians, but the missing 200 block of Gay Street serves as a discouragement to casual visitors to downtown. It’s an entire missing block. It’s that kind of poor planning that will damage not only small stores that need pedestrian traffic, but more fragmentation of the city streets will likely jeopardize the entire concept of a downtown renaissance.