Since the start of 2020, many longtime downtown businesses have moved their operations or closed.
For various reasons, some store owners are making critical decisions. Some are trying to be more sustainable or increase exposure, while others are shutting down. Some shops with historic value, name recognition and a loyal customer base have made drastic changes, largely unrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In mid-March, Old Picket Fence, an antique shop at the northwest corner of Ninth and Logan streets, closed. Owner Rosie Hoistion purchased the business in 2015. It had a presence on the square for more than 20 years in the historic Sowerwine Building, which is 153 years old.
“We had planned on keeping the store open for at least one more year,” Hoistion said. “Every two years, I negotiate with my landlord, and I was going into my fifth year. The first four years I had the business, I didn’t have a rent increase, but this time, there was going to be an increase.”
Althhough the rent increase was substantial, roughly 20 percent, Hoistion isn’t critical of her landlord, Hamilton Properties.
“It would have just been easier if the rent would have increased a little bit every year rather than all at once,” she said. “My landlords were great the entire time I was there. I would have stayed if it weren’t for some of the other factors, too.”
Hoistion said besides the rent hike and a health scare last year, parking complaints and issues also contributed to her decision to close the store.
Parking is no longer a major issue for merchants downtown. The city has worked for years to solve parking woes in the downtown district. At the start of 2020, a parking pilot program was launched to encourage patrons planning longer visits to the downtown area to park just off the square in free spaces instead of the metered, two-hour spaces directly around the square. Two new parking garages also are in the works.
“It’s hard to understand. if you go to the mall and park at JC Penney, people have no problem walking halfway across the world to go over to Old Navy and then back, but when people come downtown, for some reason, they want to park right in front of the business they’re going to,” Hoistion said. “We even had little change purses to give to people to put in the meter, and people still complained.”
For Ernst Buckingham, founder and owner of Buck’s Barber Shop, a plan for expansion was nixed when he decided not to keep his original shop just off the downtown square at 29 S. Ninth St.
In January, Buckingham opened a second location at 1990 Conner St., less than a mile east of the original Buck’s Barber Shop he opened in 2014 at 29. S Ninth. St.
“I had the move (to 1990 Conner St.) in the works before any of the coronavirus stuff happened,” Buckingham said. “My intent was to keep both shops open. It wasn’t virus-related, the reason I closed (29 S. Ninth St.), but the building was just in such bad condition that I couldn’t keep it open.”
Buckingham said although overall business dropped by roughly 60 percent in the days before the two shops were mandated to close because of the pandemic, the downtown location closed permanently March 21, three days before hair salons and barbershops were ordered to close starting March 25.
“My rent on Ninth Street was very cheap, but you know, you get what you pay for,” Buckingham said. “We had plumbing problems, water leaks, mold, and the owner just wasn’t repairing anything. With the building the condition it was in, I couldn’t attract new barbers. And prior to anything happening with the virus, we were going stronger than ever. Both locations were firing on all cylinders, but a big issue for us downtown was the parking. The parking at our new building is 10 times what it was when we were downtown.
“The location and exposure of the new shop, that’s worth $1,200 or $1,300 a month just in advertising revenue. We’re right on State Road 32, visible to everyone, and we have a parking lot.”
MORE CHANGES ON THE SQUARE
Old Picket Fence and Buck’s Barber Shop are two of several downtown businesses to switch things up. One of the more surprising moves from downtown was that of the Noblesville Clock Company, which recently moved from 966 to 2345 Conner St. because of high rent. The shop had rented the first floor of the historic Becker House building since 1998.
Kirk’s Hardware at 848 Logan St. – housed in a building that dates to 1889 – also has closed after its owners were unable to finalize a sale with an interested buyer. Through the years, the building had been a hardware, dry goods store and horse-and-buggy repair shops before becoming Kirk’s Hardware in the early 1950s.
As of May 4, the Noblesville Antique Mall at 20 N. Ninth St. is closing after an agreement couldn’t be reached among the owners, the building owner and a manager of the store to keep the business open. It has been on the downtown square for nearly 30 years.
At the end of April, Copper Still, a restaurant at the southeast corner of Ninth and Conner streets, announced its closure. The owners could not be reached for comment.