It’s a good thing when new businesses come to downtown Washington. It’s a bad thing when downtown loses businesses.
A busy, thriving and bustling downtown is good for the rest of the city. The converse is true. A quiet, decaying downtown is bad for the rest of the city.
There’s no doubt there are a lot of things happening in the city’s central business district. Some of those things bring lots of people downtown. Others don’t.
Businesses need foot traffic. The more people who come into a store, the more opportunities for a merchant to make sales.
The Historic Downtown Washington Merchants Association, Downtown Washington on the Waterfront and the Washington Tourism Development Authority continue to look for ways to bring people to the city and its downtown. Those efforts are to be commended.
It looks like those efforts, at least for some downtown businesses, are not enough. Retail businesses downtown are closing, and those closings are being blamed on the lack of customers. One shop, the 3 Sisters All Natural Botanical store, closed its doors recently. It will have a presence on the Internet.
The community may expect the Historic Downtown Washington Merchants Association, Downtown Washington on the Waterfront and the Washington Tourism Development Authority to keep up their efforts to bring people — shoppers, if you will — downtown, as they should.
It’s going to take more than just their efforts to make downtown what it should be. Merchants and shop owners must do their part, too.
When there are lots of people downtown, merchants should take advantage of those opportunities. Shops should be open when there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people downtown for one reason or another.
Take Music in the Streets events for example. At most Music in the Streets events, downtown is crowded, but many stores are not open. Granted, a Music in the Streets event happens just once a month from April through October, but most of them attract thousands of people.
Look at Sunday afternoons, especially during the prime tourist season from April through October. Many downtown visitors arrive by car or by boat. Scores of people stroll downtown, many of them looking for open shops and places to eat. It’s sad to say their choices on a Sunday afternoon are extremely limited — most downtown businesses are closed.
Yes, the merchants will say want to spend quality time with their families. They will say they need some time away from their shops to rest. They will say they need time to enjoy life. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s more than understandable that they want those things. If they want them, they may have them.
Plenty of people work nights, weekends and holidays and are able to enjoy fruitful, meaningful and enjoyable times with their families. And there are merchants who do that, too.
Merchants and shop owners should not complain about not having enough customers or just barely making ends meet when they are not keeping their doors open when there are potential customers on the streets. If they choose to keep their doors shut when there are hundreds or thousands of people just outside those doors, they must accept the consequences of their decisions.
No doubt some merchants will be angry after reading these words. So be it. They are the ones making decisions to pass up opportunities to make more sales. Choosing when to be open and when to close is up to the merchants. Although the Historic Downtown Washington Merchants Association, Downtown Washington on the Waterfront and the Washington Tourism Development Authority can help bring people downtown, the ultimate responsibility for getting potential customers in their shops lies with the merchants.
Those merchants who keep late hours and open their doors, even if just for a few hours, on weekends are improving their chances for success.
To those merchants who stay open late and on the weekends, keep it up. Perhaps some of your colleagues will follow your examples.