Downtown ranks high in retail survey

REGION – While downtown Traverse City sidewalks are packed during the summer months, a recent survey by the Traverse City Business News shows strong support of the downtown area by people who make their living here year-round.

In fact, downtown is capturing a significant chunk of shoppers' dollars.

According to the TCBN 2007 Retail Survey, half of the 472 respondents shop downtown for household or business "once a month or more." Respondents also gave downtown a favorable rating of more than 90 percent compared to other retail areas, such as Meijer, the Grand Traverse Mall and Wal-Mart (see chart on pg. 10).

"I'm fairly pleased," said Bryan Crough, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA). He says the survey results echo sentiments the DDA hears from visiting groups, which this past summer included the Michigan Downtown Association and the Michigan Association of Planning.

"They were all impressed with our downtown," Crough said.

More than 80 percent of the TCBN survey respondents gave the overall downtown shopping experience a "B" or better. DDA officials were happy to hear the grade, "but there's always room for improvement," noted Deputy Director Rob Bacigalupi.

The key improvement, survey respondents said, would be longer hours downtown. More than 70 percent said they would shop downtown more often if more stores were open later and on Sundays (see chart on pg. 10).

"We're as on top of it as we can be," said Crough of the DDA's efforts with respect to hours of operation for downtown businesses.

The Downtown Traverse City Association does have an "hours" committee, said the DDA's Colleen Paveglio, and specifically recommends Friday night hours for downtown merchants.

Crough added that there has been an increase in stores open on Sundays, but noted that downtown simply can't compete with the malls and national chains when it comes to hours-in part because the owner-operator aspect of many of the downtown shops makes staffing extended hours challenging.

The bottom line is that stores are open when people are around, Crough explained, and a boost to cultural and entertainment venues, including two new restaurants and the reopening of the State Theatre and the Opera House, may bring the kind of foot traffic that would support more retail hours.

For the DDA, the goal is getting merchants on a more regular schedule of extended hours.

"We are focused like a laser on consistency," added Crough.

Beyond longer hours, some 57 percent of respondents said a different mix of stores would draw them downtown more often. Topping the list were department stores and stores selling casual clothing. Some 68 percent of respondents said it was either "very likely" or "extremely likely" that they would personally shop at department stores and more than 64 percent indicated the same interest level in casual clothing stores. Downtown's last department store, Milliken's, went out of business in the mid-'90s. Other strong interests were in specialty food/wine shops and bookstores.

There was considerably less interest by respondents in electronics, toy stores, and video rental establishments.

In an open-ended question about the best customer service in northern Michigan, La Cuisine Amical was the top vote getter.

"It's a great reflection of my staff," said Amical's Dave Denison, co-owner and executive chef of the 14-year-old downtown restaurant.

Second-place honors went to nearby clothing retailer, Captain's Quarters (see chart pg. 12).

Petoskey received the most votes for "best (non-TC) small downtown shopping district" (see chart pg. 13).


When asked about the job the DDA is doing in helping to develop a strong downtown, more than 90 percent of respondents consider the authority to be "effective" at some level, although the largest chunk (46.2 percent) only see it as "somewhat effective."

"Downtown has definitely improved, but it's still got a long way to go to reach its full potential," wrote one respondent. Another commented, "Good intentions, poor planning."

DDA officials believe the organization tries to do everything it can with regard to strengthening downtown. They cite a gift certificate program that locked $135,000 into downtown last year and the recent Shop Your Community Day-programs which have been copied by other downtown communities-as well as the Friday Night Live events in the summer.

"We tend to try to do everything we can," Crough said, but acknowledged that in trying to do everything, it can sometimes fall short.

He highlighted better education of downtown landlords on selecting tenants for "the long haul" and efforts to increase parking.

"We can always improve the experience downtown," Crough said. BN