Why Ghostly Downtown Salisbury Gets Little Traffic and Why Many New Retailers and Restaurants Close Down there within a Year or Less

Posted on December 23, 2016

RFP Staff

♦ We are unlikely ever to hear what we are reporting from Downtown Salisbury, Inc. (D.S.I) who appears to operate from an extreme alternate reality in their attempts to spin their vacancy strewn ghost downtown as a vibrant and a happening place.  Any casual observer adventuring into the Downtown area will quickly see a lack of human traffic and very limited retail to draw people.  People question the lack of minority businesses Downtown. Is it because our minorities are savvy about Downtown or are being kept out?

Why are people staying away in droves from the Downtown Salisbury?  Why do merchants and restaurants open and close with high-speed regularity?  The obvious:

The lack of safety: Added to the Downtown’s blight and depressed business atmosphere is the lack of public safety (badly understaffed police department) and the fact that its dangerous on Downtown side streets, in parking lots, and by outdoor ATMs. During their flat-lined holiday shopping season, the purse snatchers, strong-armed robbers, stick-up artists, car jackers, muggers, and  vehicle break-in artists are out in force in Downtown area.    We also have an army of panhandlers ever ready to get in your face or worse.

The “City of the Make Believe” attempts to cover it over. Talk to area residents in private and they will tell you they fear walking Downtown and won’t go there after dark.  The Salisbury Police, as most recognize, are woefully underpaid, understaffed, and leave when they find an opening elsewhere.  Even though few venues are open downtown after dark, people fear going there. Lack of safety is a killer.

Lack of human traffic, either pedestrian or vehicular, most hours of the day. Lack of parking and lack of retail draws.  Retail mostly closes when darkness creeps in.

• The extreme high cost of doing business Downtown.  Overly expensive leases. Triple net leases on old mercantile buildings some over a hundred years-old. Here a business woman or man gets sapped not only for an over-priced lease–they get impaled for taxes, upkeep, insurance, utilities, staying up to code, and repairs. Heaven help you if your roof springs leaks or your façade topples onto the sidewalk and street, your overhead rockets through roof. Many who naively took on greedy triple net lease have to shut down because they are flat out broke. And heaven forbid you mortgaged your home in starting a lifetime dream biz in the Bury, your house soon belongs to a bank.

Lest we forget Downtown businesses are paying the highest Municipal Services District Tax in North Carolina to support the Empire Hotel, a derelict bat sanctuary not open since 1963 when it closed as a flophouse. Now it is in dire need of costly abatement and demolition.  Added the cost of retailers is pilferage and customers being driven off by panhandlers.  Keeping up with historic codes is costly. We haven’t even mentioned downtown’s vandalism costs. Get your building gang-tagged and spray painted up with graffiti or your expensive plate glass windows blown out by a cinder block and you lose a bundle. Your vehicle getting broken into (usually with your side-windows smashed in) is cash consuming especially if it occurs once or twice a year.

Many people who jump headfirst into Downtown Salisbury and lost their life savings and sometime their homes because they put them up as collateral for their “start up” down there. There’s one overage scam they use on the newbie start-ups. A certain non-profit organization recommends their architectural, plumbing, electrical, roofing, and construction pals and they deliberately milk the newbie restauranter or retailer by constructing according to old codes. On the completion of the job, the code inspector comes out and tells the mark they have to redo the job according to existing codes. Instant overage. The architect or construction outfit scores more money and the project is held up sometimes months costing the newbie lost revenue and more dough out of their pockets.

Few if any minority businesses on Main Street.  This harms the Main Street’s ability to attract the city’s large minority population.

The false promise that the new Central Office would generate both shoppers and diners in the Downtown area.  RowanWorks Robert Van Geons (now leaving Salisbury for greener economic pastures in Fayetville) alleged office “study” proclaimed the Downtown School Central Office would generate $5,000 per person per anum in “power shopping” and dining in Salisbury’s famished downtown.  Of course the RFP nailed that claim as ludicrous as soon as it was made.  We knew administrators would not stay in the Central office building during the day–they were out in the field in the county all day long.  The support staff, remaining behind, are largely “brown baggers” and microwave oven users.  The few who venture out for grub generally go no further than Richard’s BBQ next door or maybe as far as Hap’s on North Main to wolf down a chili-dog.

The mammoth in the room that raises the costs of doing business and living in Downtown Salisbury: The Fibrant Debacle.  Your taxes, water and sewer bill, and fees rocket skyward because of the Fibrant Debacle.  And it gulps freely from the city’s withering city services.

People don’t want to come to blighted and vacancy-filled areas. It bums them out. It’s like going to an Ebola ward. Most people don’t want to see suffering. It’s a downer to visit a hapless ghosttown where you pre-morn what business is going to shut down next.

Because 27.2% of Salisbury population lives below the poverty line there is little spendable income Few people buy over-priced recycled goods, bric-a-brac, junktique, or anything list price.

Little parking available due to a scarcity of parking lots. Many parking slots taken up by shop owners.

Anti-business historic codes. In a town with not a whole lot of tangible history (Save for older buildings lacking any real history taking place in them) Salisbury’s historic preservation groups exert excessive control over building and signage codes, crimping what businesses can do and making it more expensive to set up shop.

A lack of basic business savvy and a well-thought out business plan. Raw business rookies, following their dream of owning a business in an area where its the “survival of the fittest”, is a recipe for failure. Get a heavy dose of mentoring from experienced business persons, avail yourself of the SBA, and develop a well-structured business plan.

Nobody wants to bother with stores that close promptly at 5 p.m. People like to go to stores after work. When they see nothing is open after 5 p.m., they don’t bother coming back.

Let’s face it–nobody, but nobody wants to pay list price. That’s why everybody goes shopping on the internet or travels out of Rowan County to Concord Mills, Huntersville, Afton Ridge, Winston-Salem, Mooresville, or even Charlotte to do their purchasing. They are more liable to find what they want on the internet or in big box chain stores at inexpensive prices. Shoppes-at-the-Summit helped some in stemming retail leakage out of the area.

Be Alert and Aware–Stay safe this Christmas!

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