Businesses boom downtown

Kelly Petryszyn

Acorn Alley is thriving, and its success has also caused a jolt to other locations in downtown Kent

Acorn Alley is thriving, and its success has also caused a jolt to other locations in downtown Kent

Since Acorn Alley opened, business has been thriving in downtown Kent.

Mary Gilbert, the executive director of Main Street Kent, said she is noticing more and more people walking through Acorn Alley.

One of the newest additions to Acorn Alley, Dancing Beta, has been full to capacity a few times since its January 22 opening, waitress Sharon Swab said. Even the snow hasn’t derailed customers from coming in to enjoy sushi.

Owner Paul Geldhof said the majority of customers are students. One student even comes daily for lunch, sometimes twice for dinner.

While more people are frequenting businesses in the alley, they are wandering over to other locations on Main Street as well. Those businesses are seeing an increase in customers.

Empire, a specialty shop, sold out of truffles and other chocolates this past Christmas.

“In general, I think Acorn Alley and its publicity is helping us a lot,” said Empire sales associate Stephanie Giammacro. The store has been in Kent for about a year. She has noticed that the exposure of Acorn Alley has helped people become aware of not only the alley, but the rest of the Kent as well.

“People have been talking about Kent since Acorn Alley happened,” she said.

Gilbert has had a hand in Acorn Alley promotions through her work with Main Street Kent, a group that revitalizes downtowns and neighboring business districts.

“We’ve made amazing progress,” she said. “Acorn Alley is very visible.”

Stores that have held a spot on Main Street for years are noticing a change in business.

Jason Merlene, owner of Last Exit Books, said out of the five years his business has been open, this year has been the best. He attributes some of the success to Acorn Alley, but also thinks the two galleries, The Black Squirrel Gallery and the Kent State University Downtown Gallery, had a part in it.

He said the galleries appeal to the sort of crowd that would be seen browsing through the book stacks in his store.

The Works, a unique gift shop, has operated on Main Street for 23 years and owner/manager Jenny Arthur said during that time, business in downtown Kent has undergone a complete cycle. There wasn’t much for students downtown 10 or 15 years ago. She said now students can get everything they need.

Bob Mayfield, owner of McKay Bricker Framing and the Black Squirrel Gallery, has also noticed a shift in the dynamics of downtown. Instead of people going downtown for one item, he sees them staying and shopping around. He has also noticed an increase in foot traffic.

Main Street may feel a second wave of customers soon. Kent is in the process of working out agreements with developers to bring a hotel, transit center, multi-modal parking facility and other buildings to downtown Kent.

“I think the resurgence of downtown Kent is just starting,” Mayfield said. He said this project will also help retailers.

Gilbert also has high hopes. “I am really excited about what’s happening.” She predicts that business will stay on the rise.

Contact public affairs reporter Kelly Petryszyn

at [email protected].