Uncertainty over the immediate future of downtown Georgetown has the owners of some properties that were not damaged in the Sept. 25 fire wondering if there won’t be some fallout that could depress their business.
From fears that the loss of seven historic buildings and their businesses will mean less pedestrian traffic downtown to concern that the disruption of construction will drive away potential customers, owners wonder how the Georgetown of the near future may be different from that of the recent past.
“(If) anything changes, you worry about the unknown,” said Meghan Rader, owner of The Coffee Break Cafe at 716 Front St.
“It’s the uncertainty,” echoed Rich Kreidler, owner of the Rice Paddy Restaurant at 732 Front St.
The two businesses are across the street from the space left by the burned buildings, and both owners say that their business has been up and down since the fire.
“Our business the last couple of weeks has been hot and cold,” Kreidler said.
But Skip Yaeger, owner of Sweetie’s Sweets, located next to one end of the area where the burned buildings were, said he doesn’t share those feelings.
“I think a lot of people have concerns that I don’t have,” he said.
Yaeger said there is a lot of activity downtown from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. that slows and picks up again when the dinner crowd starts coming in around 6 p.m. Many visitors drive south from Debordieu, Pawleys Island and points north on the Grand Strand to soak up Georgetown’s unique atmosphere.
“They come for the history,” Yaeger said.
And he doesn’t believe that will change because of the loss of the downtown buildings.
Kreidler said he’s not just worried about a drop-off in foot traffic, but he’s also concerned about the reconstruction and construction vehicles taking up valuable parking spaces. Parking already is tight in Georgetown without additional stress, he said.
Kreidler said that October is a down month anyway, and he’s just not sure right now what impact the fire might have on other businesses.
He said that there’s been some talk about limiting the times when construction vehicles can be active downtown and stipulating how vehicles must park to take up as little space as possible.
Yaeger said he thinks the city could rule that any of the downtown construction take place between midnight and noon each day, a time that would get the vehicles and noise out of the way before the 1 p.m. business spike starts. He does worry about disruptions from construction if it happens throughout the business day.
“I’m really not that worried except for the impact of that heavy equipment,” he said.
As for the loss of foot traffic, Kreidler and Rader said they expected a boost from this weekend’s Bridge2Bridge race and the upcoming annual Georgetown Wooden Boat Show.
Yaeger said he’ll be glad to see the Harbor Walk reopen.
Rader said people are working on plans for things to encourage people to come downtown.
She said that the holidays that begin with Halloween this month provide opportunities through at least the end of the year for special event promotions. The Taste of Georgetown is set for Nov. 3, she said, and the Small Town Christmas celebration will come after that.
Kreidler said businesses may open on Sundays during the holiday season. He now gets customers when the Swamp Fox Players are staging a production at the Strand Theater, also on Front Street.
Rader said that she’s noticed people downtown who say they are there to support the town in its time of need.
Yaeger said he doesn’t think parking is a big problem. A lot of the downtown spaces, he said, are used by employees of downtown businesses.
The fire came just as downtown businesses were beginning to climb out of the hole blasted in their businesses by the great recession, but neither Kreidler nor Rader were owners before the crash. Yaeger was.
“We’re finally back to the business we had before ’08,” he said.
Rader and Kreidler don’t have that experience, and aren’t sure just what to expect.
“Maybe in six months I’ll have a different view,” Rader said. “But right now, I’m optimistic.”
Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.