Walking through downtown Bloomsburg today is a much different experience than it was four years ago in the heart of the recession when many of the glass storefront windows sat dark and dusty with “For Rent” signs taped up. Today you can walk that same route and many of those same storefronts have new life and new ownership.
Some of the new businesses that now call Bloomsburg home are Frank’s Trattoria, the Crimson Lion Hookah Bar, the Capital Bar and Grill, and many more that took advantage of the spaces while they were still available.
In an attempt to ignite interest from perspective employers and inject new economic life into the downtown area, a group of volunteer members formed Downtown Bloomsburg Inc. to work in conjunction with the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce to help with the revitalization process.
“We do our advertising mostly through our website, along with handing out literature to surrounding areas to try to bring in business,” said Tim Wagner, the Chairman of the Downtown Bloomsburg Inc. Board of Trustees. “Businesses want to locate here now. Usually when you see one move out, it doesn’t take too long for it to fill up.” Wagner is also the owner of Wagner’s Trophies downtown.
A big draw for prospective employers looking to set up shop downtown is the ten thousand students up on the hill who attend Bloomsburg University.
“Having the university here influences the downtown somewhat heavily,” said Wagner. “Many shops cater to the students; we wouldn’t have as many sub shops, bars, and pizza places otherwise. We look for a good mix though for the students and town, as well as for parents when they come to visit.”
Although the recession may have had an impact on the number of vacant storefronts downtown, findings from the 2009 Town of Bloomsburg Comprehensive plan suggests that “Competition from new growth in the surrounding townships has hurt the downtown business district. Big box retailers on Route 11 are causing a shift of consumers away from the downtown. This is a greater erosion than was caused in the late 1980’s with the development of the Columbia Mall.”
Stores like Cole’s Hardware have relocated to Route 11, while other chain stores like Starbuck’s and Quizno’s Subs disappeared within the past few years, due to falling short of their corporate quotas.
Despite the official manager position of Downtown Bloomsburg Inc. being empty, and the vote for a replacement still a few weeks away, the influx of new stores and new faces appearing on Main Street doesn’t appear to have slowed.
“The properties are worth more when they’re filled, and the gross receipt tax fees go towards helping the town,” said Wagner. “Although I can’t give any names for competitive or monetary reasons, I will say a few businesses are coming in that are looking pretty good.”
[box type=”bio”]Zack Sterkenberg is a Student in the Mass Communications program at Bloomsburg University[/box]