Downtown Franklin’s dedication to preservation pays off

Nashville Business Journal – By Nevin Batiwalla – June 7, 2013

Bob Roethemeyer is owner of Avec Moi, a specialty gift shop, and president of the Downtown Franklin Association. The two roles, he says, are not mutually exclusive. “I was only interested in opening a business if I could be in downtown Franklin,” he said. We talked to Roethemeyer about what’s making downtown Franklin thrive and what’s next for the business district.

The recession has put a squeeze on retailers. How are businesses bouncing back in downtown Franklin? Things were tough down here in 2008 and 2009. But a couple of things had been put in place years before that have really allowed downtown Franklin to weather difficult times — our streetscapes, widening of sidewalks and beautification program. Those investments made by the city and county 20 years ago were the beginning of what we are reaping now.

What makes downtown Franklin unique? We are blessed with great restaurateurs. It’s a great place to dine. I talk to folks from many rural towns in Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky who say, “We’ve got great shops in our downtown also.” But part of the problem is they may have just one restaurant to go to. As bizarre as it sounds, a food court in a mall is critical to the success of the mall because you’re not going to drive there and spend a few hours if you can’t get something to eat and drink. We’ve got everything from Merridee’s Breadbasket to a deli to fine dining.

How important are tourists to businesses in downtown Franklin? They are crucial. And it’s truly a year-round thing. While we have more tourists in the summer, I will have tourists in January and February. There are days when easily 60 percent of my business is from tourists. They are drawn by the uniqueness of the shops. We’ve had a couple of retailers move in that are national chains, but as a rule, we all do our own specialty thing. There is definitely a consumer who wants to go local. They want to dine local. They want to shop local. I think because we continue to be a district mostly of mom-and-pop shops, there is a huge appeal to visitors. The Williamson County Convention and Visitors Bureau has done a great job building relationships with concierges in the local hotels.

How did the reopening of Franklin Theatre impact nearby businesses? Certain times of the year, when we have a lot of great things going on at the Franklin Theatre, it’s the epicenter of activity. It brings 300-plus people to downtown, so everybody around that reaps the benefits.

As a result, I’ve started staying open on Friday nights to take advantage of the additional foot traffic. Our Sunday business also has increased. After people get out of a movie they definitely stick around in our downtown area. I really think of the theater as the crown jewel for us in downtown Franklin.

How has downtown Franklin changed? Now on a Saturday you will see high school or college kids hanging out in front of a storefront playing music. That certainly would never have happened 20 years ago when I moved here. Part of that is being in an affluent county that has put a lot of money into making sure downtown looks nice. It also has to do with our dedication to preservation. We’ve not bulldozed a block of our downtown like what’s going on in Hillsboro Village. We have held on to our uniqueness. I think that sense of community gets stronger all the time with the merchants and folks who live here. Ten years ago it wasn’t the thing to do to take mom and dad to downtown Franklin to go shopping. Now it’s definitely one of the things to do when you move here.

What is downtown Franklin missing? There’s definitely a need for a small boutique hotel. People often come and say, “I want to stay here for the weekend,” but we only have a couple bed-and-breakfasts that book up pretty quickly. We also need to address parking issues. … We also are working on developing more things for kids to do downtown. I’d also like to see us make stronger use of the musical influence downtown.

This website is the property of Diane Balciar who is a contracted agent of Kerr & Co Realty and is in no way affiliated with Westhaven Realty or Southern Land Company. Westhaven is the registered trademark owned by Southern Land Company, LLC.