What's the right business mix for downtown Zionsville?

April 29, 2013
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Zionsville jeweler Bob Goodman preaches patience.

As an independent business owner, he’s always looking for ways to improve. And he’s humbled that his customers continue to give him that opportunity.

So although he wants more for Robert Goodman Jewelers and the rest of the town’s historic Village Business District, Goodman knows that’s not as simple as hanging out an “open” sign and waiting for shoppers to show up.

Keeping the quaint Main Street viable as the town ramps up commercial development elsewhere will require finding just the right mix of retail and service businesses to draw—and keep—customers downtown.

“This is tough stuff, so you’ve got to be very patient, very thorough,” he told IBJ for a story in this week’s print edition. “Otherwise, you’re throwing darts at the wall.”

Which is why Zionsville leaders are preparing to seek an expert opinion, in the form of a consultant-led market study and parking analysis. The process isn’t expected to be quick, but officials hope it results in a shared vision for how to move the community forward.

“As we have turnover and new tenants, we need to know what would be desirable so we are prepared to fill vacancies in a way that makes sense,” said Charlie Edwards, chairman of the Zionsville Economic Development Commission. “We want businesses that feed off each other.”

That’s a tough call to make, especially in such a tight-knit community. And in the end, shoppers will decide what’s desirable—or not—regardless of what the study finds.

So how about a preview from our North of 96th readers: What kind of businesses do you want to see in a walkable downtown area like Zionsville’s?

  • More retail
    We need more retail - NOT realtors, banks, financial planners, insurance companies, etc. These are all very important professional services that we all need, but they do not attract people to Main Street. We need a unique gift shop that offers innovative, cool and cutting edge merchandise. New retail should model shop owner Steve Schwartz at Ballerinas & Bruisers. Steve is innovative, uses social media, offers unique merchandise, etc. - a true jewel on Main Street!
  • Retail dilemma
    Beautiful Main Street Zionsville is definitely in need of new retail stores. Yet opening a successful (and profitable) locally owned retail business today is a big challenge considering the economy. Zionsville needs to offer true incentives to potential retail businesses - tax breaks, lowered rents, etc. if they want to attract new stores. There's also a need for the town and the Chamber to recruit new stores from other towns, like Carmel did when opening their new downtown retail area. There's no easy fix to this dilemma and the time is now to establish a pro-retail business initiative in Zionsville.
  • Zionsville Brewing Co.
    A brewery and associated restaurant.
  • Grocery Co-op
    A small independent grocery, local food co-op or village market would be something interesting. As a co-op, well known local farms such as Trader's Point Creamery, Stuckey Farms, and I am sure plenty of others could provide seasonal fresh food, both to restaurants and walk-in customers. It might add to the success of the farmers market and similar to the City Market in Indy. It the rent is inexpensive or subsidized, it would support local farms and while not unique, provide something different to downtown shoppers. I also applaud the downtown restaurants such as Cobblestone Grill, Eagle Creek Coffee, and others who have added music and outdoor seating which enhances or extends the use of their spaces.
  • Chicken or the Egg
    As a nearly lifelong resident of Zionsville, ( a few too many years in LA); I too would like to see the downtown district more vibrant and submit a market driven study is paramount; not one driven by developers to expand and build. We need to improve on what we have first. Get viable businesses into the empty spaces first before adding capacity. Driving into Zionsville for many is a destination visit... a dinner out and/or shopping during the evening hours or weekend to "experience" the quaint environs of Zionsville. But right there is a rub when retail closes early weekdays and very few open on Sundays. There's my chicken or the egg dilemma. Offerings that are unique, enjoyable and provide value are always in demand. Shops that come to mind are Ballerina's and Bruisers, Corner Vise, Ganache, Goodman's, Grapevine Cottage, Zionsville Lighting Center and eateries such as Cobblestone, Noah Grants, Plum's, Serenity and Villagio to name a few. They are just not cookie cutter merchants in my opinion. Any money spent on consultants should uncover and identify other unique niches that could be offered and not found in areas such as The Fashion Mall at Keystone or Clay Terrace. A butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker while cliche might do well indeed. Why do I have to drive to Kincaid's, Whole Foods or Kona Jack's for that extra special cut of meat or seafood? Sunshine Bakery was a hit I recall but driven out by lease rates. I'll stop here but anxious (and hopeful) to see how this progresses.
  • More like Brown County
    I don't think the mixed usage works very well. Imagine a Saturday afternoon... you're walking along, browsing the shops, grabbing a bite to eat, and you come upon a... realtor's office? You weren't really shopping for a new home or business, now were you? Those kinds of offices just don't seem to fit somehow. Zionsville could and should be like the Brown County/Nashville district - open all weekend long, and catering mainly to people who like to eat and shop. With proper parking, marketing, and management, this charming, beautiful area could be a true destination for the Midwest. There needs to be a historic/architectural walking tour (the homes and businesses in the area are charming and interesting - there are a lot of stories to tell). Tie in some great festivals and events in the Lions Park next door (which is a really nice park, by the way). This area is bursting with promise and profitability, really... and it doesn't need a Wal-Mart to accomplish it. Small-town charm goes a long way in the Midwest.

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