Downtown businesses highlight challenges, share hopes for strong finish ahead of Christmas

Michael Perchick Image
Thursday, December 21, 2023
Downtown businesses highlight challenges, share goals ahead of holiday
"We're in a really different economic climate than we were a few years ago"

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The once vibrant and colorful showroom at the corner of Salisbury and Hargett Streets now sits dormant after Black Friday Market closed earlier this month.

"It's a good time to close and move on to something new," said owner Johnny Hackett Jr.

The decision lines up with the end of its three-year lease at the location, in which it far outlasted its initial three-month commitment. Black Friday Market operated under a unique model in which vendors would pay a flat fee to sell products out of the physical location and keep all of the proceeds.

"(It) worked out pretty good at the beginning, especially if you had a certain number of business owners in the store. But as that starts to drop and you get to level off a little bit, you start to see some differences with that model," Hackett explained.

In an effort to remain afloat, they altered the format earlier this year to keep 30 or 40% of revenue.

"We just didn't perform as well as we have in years past from a sales perspective," said Hackett.

Over three years, more than 400 vendors sold products out of the store, totaling sales of $1.2 million. While Hackett said current vendors wanted him to continue, he believed now is the right time to move on to other projects, including broader efforts to support downtown businesses.

Of the vendors who previously sold from his location, Hackett noted five have since opened storefronts of their own. Amongst that group is Alexandria Monet Taylor, who co-owns Unorthodox Vintage on Wilmington Street.

"For the first year and a half, it was really, really good," said Taylor.

While there is still a lively presence inside the two-level store, Taylor said they have faced recent challenges, noting sales are down 30% this month compared to December 2022.

"Small businesses are the heartbeat of the economy. And us not participating in that and us not funneling our dollars through there is hurting our cities and our businesses," said Taylor.

"It's a revolving door of small business owners that are coming and going or that continue to need support," said Hackett.

Taylor also pointed to efforts to address safety concerns in the downtown sector, hoping authorities would alter their presence.

"Seeing an officer walking down the street and kind of like cruising back and forth feels more approachable than multiple police cars in one area," said Taylor.

Earlier this month, a private security firm began patrols around the GoRaleigh Bus Station to supplement Raleigh Police, as the department continues to face staffing shortages.

Downtown Raleigh Alliance has engaged in efforts to try and assist business owners, including awarding $87,500 to nine businesses with Store Upfit Grants; Unorthodox Vintage previously utilized the grant.

"We're in a really different economic climate than we were a few years ago. During COVID, people were so willing to just shop local, to seek out local shops and partners, and support small businesses. But we're seeing a little bit where people are starting to go back online. It's a little bit easier to shop big box," said Jennifer Martin with Shop Local Raleigh.

Shop Local Raleigh hosts Brewgaloo and the Raleigh Christmas Parade among other festivals, and supports efforts to draw big crowds to the area.

"That is one of our goals for 2024 is how do we as an association, as a network of small business owners come together to bring together some more events down there," said Martin.

Earlier this month, Downtown Raleigh Alliance brought back Illuminate Art Walk, which will be up through January 5.