More than $500 million that could be spent locally each year is "leaking" into the surrounding area, according to a report on the city of Beaufort's downtown retail businesses.
The report, commissioned by Main Street Beaufort, USA, also makes several recommendations for bolstering the local economy. Among the ideas:
- Competitions to find and support new businesses
- Events and attractions for residents
- Longer business hours
- Strategies to entice pedestrians to side streets.
Arnett Muldrow & Associates of Greenville prepared the study, which was presented Wednesday. Consultant Tee Coker said he was optimistic the information from the study would be used.
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"I met with so many bright, young, committed Beaufortonians throughout this process, and I believe you are more than up to it," Coker said.
Arnett Muldrow employees used online surveys, a customer zip-code survey, meetings with residents and business owners, and other demographic and economic statistics.
Threats to the downtown economy include a lack of population growth, a shopping shift to southern Beaufort County, "relatively antagonistic attitudes" toward development, physical growth limits and a regulatory process that creates barriers for new businesses.
However, Beaufort has a number of opportunities, according to the report.
Retail offerings can be expanded, and hospitality and retail businesses can create partnerships. Directional signs and a proposed Port Republic Square parking garage could help boost businesses on the side streets.
The Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park, Intracoastal Waterway and planned day dock at the Beaufort Downtown Marina could be better used to increase economic development, according to the report.
Key opportunities for downtown include specialty grocery stores; furniture, family clothing, hobby, toy and game stores; beer, wine and liquor stores; and sporting goods shops related to the water, according to the report.
The next phase is to take the study and create practical methods to attract and assist businesses, improve visitors' experiences and create partnerships.
Main Street Beaufort board chairman Charlie Williams said he is looking forward to even more specific recommendations, which should be ready in a few weeks.
"One of the things the data showed, and didn't surprise anyone I think, is downtown is really geared toward tourism," he said. "And that's a good thing, but we need to bring more of the local community to downtown."
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.