By: Dylan Darling
Source: Register Guard (08/01/16)
“We really want locals to rediscover downtown.”
— Melissa Achtien, owner of gilt+gossamer
Store and restaurant owners in downtown Eugene have formed a group — Downtown Eugene Merchants — in hopes of drawing more shoppers and diners to the city’s core.
“We want to shift the previous image of downtown being an expanse of vacant buildings … to the truth, which is that downtown is a growing center of business in our community supported by a network of creative individuals,” said Priyamon Makyadath, the group’s vice president for membership
A nonprofit association, Downtown Eugene Merchants began about two years ago but plans to get more active. It recently created a board and in May began charging a membership fee.
So far, nearly 60 downtown business owners have joined, said Makyadath, the manager of Shoe-A-Holic, a shoe store on Willamette Street between Broadway and East 10th Avenue.
“With all of us supporting each other and working toward the goal of having more people downtown, it helps us all,” he said.
Members pay $250 a year, he said.
Among the group’s goals: resurrecting an annual downtown late summer/early fall festival to replace the Eugene Celebration. That festival and parade ran from 1983 to 2013, when the for-profit management group pulled the plug. For years, celebration backers struggled to attract the money needed to put on the event. Another event organizer created Festival of Eugene, which ran in 2014 and 2015 near Skinner Butte, but scrapped the event this year.
Downtown Eugene Merchants defines downtown as the area between Lincoln and High streets and Seventh and 11th avenues. Members include newer and established businesses.
“There is strength in numbers,” said Melissa Achtien, owner of gilt+gossamer, a boutique that opened last year. “We really want locals to rediscover downtown.”
Achtien’s store on Willamette sells women’s clothing, plus gifts and home, baby and pet goods.
The merchant group’s initiatives also include updating a downtown map.
Using money from sponsors, Downtown Eugene Merchants last year printed a map of downtown restaurants and shops. It plans to print a new map showing the locations of member businesses in the next month, said Nicole Desch, owner of Heritage Dry Goods and board president for the group. She calls her Willamette Street shop a “modern-day general store,” offering American-made products for men, women and the home.
“(The maps) were really, really popular,” she said. “We frequently get asked if we have more of them.”
Travel Lane County, hotels and the merchants themselves distributed the old map and will do so again with the new map.
A little larger than a postcard, the map shows a grid of downtown on one side and a list of businesses on the other, Achtien said. Sponsors so far this year are Whole Foods, set to open this fall at East Broadway and High Street, and Euphoria Chocolate, which has a store on Willamette Street.
The group will spend about $3,000 to produce 25,000 copies of the map. Achtien said the group is looking for more sponsors. Sponsors pay $500 each, Makyadath said.
Downtown Eugene Merchants has the support of Downtown Eugene Inc., a nonprofit group that represents and is funded by downtown property owners, and the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce. The chamber is helping the formation of the group by managing its membership fees.
Downtown Eugene Inc. runs the downtown guides program — the guides with the signature red caps — and has started working with Downtown Eugene Merchants, said Sarah Bennett, president of Downtown Eugene Inc.
Downtown “is the living room of our community,” she said. “It’s a very important, central part of our community and deserves special attention.”
Downtown has had its share of problems over the years. The ongoing business revival of the city center means there are few vacant storefronts, lots of new real estate development, and many new retail and commercial tenants. But the downtown also features many panhandlers, homeless people and others who congregate on the sidewalks and in other public spaces.
Downtown Eugene Merchants plans to address the issue of people camping out on sidewalks, panhandlers being aggressive and other problems that Achtien said its members have seen. It does not have any specific plans yet but has formed an advocacy committee to come up with solutions.
“We just want it to be more welcoming,” she said of downtown.
Group members have met with Mayor Kitty Piercy and Mayor-elect Lucy Vinis and talked with Eugene police about proper behavior downtown, Makyadath said.
“We feel that the number of people positively contributing to downtown greatly outnumbers the small population of transients,” he said.
The growth of Downtown Eugene Merchants membership in two months has been remarkable, said Dave Hauser, president of the Chamber of Commerce. He said he welcomes the group’s growing numbers.
“For us, it is yet another voice that is aligned with the objectives we have of a strong, vibrant and safe downtown,” Hauser said. “So we definitely view it as a real positive development for downtown.”
DOWNTOWN EUGENE MERCHANTS