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Some Downtown Areas Struggle to Fill Vacant Storefronts, Others Thrive
The issue of filling vacant spaces with businesses in our local downtown areas has been an ongoing struggle in many small towns, but some are starting to find a balance and thrive again.
“Last year was a really rough year for Clarion as far as losing some of our staple businesses, and while I am excited for those businesses where the owners have retired and moved on to retirement, we do have some vacancies to fill now,” Clarion Borough Mayor Brett Whitling told exploreClarion.com.
“Fortunately we do have some younger entrepreneurs that are wanting to come in and start their own businesses, and it’s very exciting to see some of these people taking that leap and jumping in with both feet to open up a shop. I’m really excited to see them up there, and I really hope that their businesses don’t just continue to stay on Main Street, but grow to be a staple within our community.”
Borough council member Rachel Roberts noted that changes in shopping trends can be a challenge for downtown retailers.
“With the rise of online sales, the need for brick-and-mortar stores is declining,” Roberts explained.
“That being said, there have been some great additions to our downtown. The Haskell House will fill a need for special event venue. They have taken a building that was falling apart and brought it back to life.
“We also have a new clothing boutique that carries items that you might not find in your local box store.”
Tracy Becker, Executive Director of the Clarion Area Chamber of Business & Industry, said that Clarion has definitely had some success in filling some of the recent vacancies downtown.
“After Community Bank left, Nirvana Nails opened in that spot – so, there has been some success,” Becker said.
However, she also noted there are still a few significant vacancies downtown.
“We still haven’t found anyone for CVS building that has been vacant some time.”
According to Becker, the Chamber is hoping to work with the County, the Borough, the Blueprint Committee, the Small Business Development Center, and the Economic Development Corporation to try to fill the vacancy.
“I’m hoping to get everyone to the table to make a joint effort, but we need input from the community, too,” she noted.
In the southern part of Clarion County, New Bethlehem Borough faces the same challenges.
“Things are filling up more here, but it just tough,” Ryan Wells, Redbank Valley Chamber of Commerce President, stated.
“We have Route 28 and Route 66 coming straight through town, but it’s tough getting people to stop sometimes.”
While there are obvious challenges for small downtown businesses in our region, Wells noted things have been looking up in New Bethlehem recently.
“We have a few places that have filled up in the past few weeks. We have a new coffee shop, and the Art Place just took another open spot, and a real estate business opened in one of the open spots in our plaza.”
According to Wells, the Chamber of Commerce works hard to try to do things that help them bring in businesses to fill open spaces.
“We want to let everyone know New Bethlehem is still here and try to keep us on the map.”
While Wells gave credit to the chamber for its efforts, Whitling and Roberts also noted that organizations, like the chamber and the Blueprint Committee, are continuing to make a difference in Downtown Clarion.
“I know being part of a Blueprint Community has helped some get loans to open businesses downtown,” Roberts noted.
“We have a lot of great community and economic development entities that are working toward the same common goal which is to make Clarion a better place to live, not just for individuals, but for families, for young families, for those that have been living in Clarion their whole lives,” Whitling said.
“I think Clarion Borough is doing a great job continuing to focus on maintaining the aesthetics of our downtown and also the Destination Downtown Clarion, I think their group is also doing a fantastic job, now being under the Blueprint Committee, in going the extra mile and putting in the extra effort of not just maintaining but improving the way our downtown looks and feels.
“Clarion Borough really maintains the upkeep and does a great job of moving things forward, while Destination Downtown Clarion really gets together with creative minds to think outside the box on how and where we can improve things.”
With so many organizations looking for ways to fill the remaining vacancies in our downtown areas, Becker said she believes it can be done.
“We’re all proud of our community, and we’ll continue to do what we can to keep it thriving.”
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