Twenty years ago, historic downtown Canandaigua was struggling with a 60-percent vacancy rate of its first-floor storefronts. Today, with more than 100 businesses, including 20-plus restaurants and pubs (many that have an international flair), art galleries, antique shops, gift stores, clothing stores and more, the first-floor vacancy rate is about 3 percent.
Its problems in 1999 were not unique. Competition from suburban malls and big-box stores had battered downtowns across the country for decades. The rise of internet shopping took even more customers away, leaving independently owned stores and businesses – the backbone of any busy, thriving downtown – desperate for a solution.
Part of Canandaigua’s solution was its “first-floor-retail-only” policy. “It means that if a location becomes or is retail, it must remain retail,” says Denise Chaapel, manager of the Down-town Canandaigua Business Management Association, also known as Downtown Canandaigua BID. The policy was enacted by the city council in June of 1999, soon after the BID began.
“What sets our district apart from many other main streets is that the BID works hard to find unique retail businesses and restaurants; the ones that help create a vibrant shopping and dining district,” explains Chaapel, a longtime owner of two downtown stores. “The policy allows us to create an incredible district without having the ‘holes’ of offices or businesses that are often closed on the first floor. Offices and residences are certainly welcome and heavily recruited for second- and third-floors, as well as side streets, which creates a 24-hour district.”
Many credit the downtown turnaround to the work of the BID, which continues to focus on beautification, cleanliness, events, marketing, capital improvement, safety and advocacy. In October, for instance, downtown streetlights will be replaced with beautiful new lantern-style lights. In addition, the BID continues to focus on ways to help businesses and the community create more sustainable ways to send less to the landfill.
Over 30 events are held in downtown Canandaigua every year. This fall, the fun continues.
• Social Saturdays
Every Saturday during the fall, families, locals and tourists are encouraged to meet in downtown Canandaigua and be social. Start at the farmer’s market, which runs from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Play giant family games at Commons Park. Take an art or jazzercise class, stroll the streets and enjoy the many gallery openings, unique shops and restaurants.
• October 5 - Downtown Canandaigua Wine Walk
This event, which is held from 4 to 7 p.m., showcases New York State wines and food. The Autumn Arts Walk is also held the same day, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
• October 26 - Fall Into Canandaigua
This popular family event, which is held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., showcases the police and fire departments and other non-profits. These groups get to show what they do, along with offering games and fun for everyone.
For more information, visit downtowncanandaigua.com.