NEWBERRY — Back in 2012 the City of Newberry officially repealed its blue laws on alcohol to promote commerce in Newberry’s downtown.
“It was two fold. One, it was something that we saw was coming and that was needed to sort of keep up with (other towns) and secondly it gives our residents another opportunity to go out on Sunday and maybe frequent some place that wasn’t open before but now has found a reason to be open,” said Assistant City Manager Matt DeWitt.
The goal of creating a more lively downtown on Sundays has, however, been a bit slow in coming to fruition as most businesses still remain closed.
DeWitt sees this as a byproduct of an “old school mentality” but speculates as new merchants move into town that the mentality could change in the pursuit of profits.
Downtown is in quite possibly the best shape it has ever been in, DeWitt said, and he expects property values to increase.
“When people acquire that property, whether they’re renters or owners, they’re going to have a lot more invested,” he said. “That means they’re going to work that much harder to make that investment pay off.”
The entire concept is a trickle down approach — the city invests in downtown to make it nice which in turn attracts quality merchants and eventually leads to more “body heat” downtown, DeWitt said.
For the equation to function, however, DeWitt said businesses need to actually be open when people come to town.
“We spend a lot of money to bring people downtown and when we spend that money we have no idea when they’re coming,” he said. “On Sundays when people have time to leave Columbia or wherever they are and come to Newberry, we’d like for businesses to be open.”
Aimee Talbot, along with her husband Greg, founded the fine furniture store EuroLux 12 years ago and have been located downtown for about a decade.
“For the first five or more years we were open on Sundays but we were really the only store downtown open on Sundays,” Talbot said.
As president of the Newberry Downtown Merchants Association, Talbot said she urged other businesses to join them but to no avail.
“Just having one store open wasn’t enough to draw traffic so I gave up and we don’t have Sunday hours anymore,” she said.
If suddenly hoards of potential customers began flooding the streets on Sundays, Talbot said she would probably open her doors but at the present she doesn’t see the need.
“My business model is that 99 percent of my business happens online and less than one percent happens here in my gallery,” she said. “I would have to see a lot of traffic in order to change what I’m doing now.”
A staple of downtown commerce, Armfield’s Office and School Supply, only opens on Sundays around Christmas.
“I am a firm believer that employees should be with their families,” said owner Christie Iannitelli. “I was raised Christian and I just don’t believe in working on Sundays. I just feel like that’s family and church time.”
Bob Shirey, owner of the Figaro Hospitality Group, takes a pragmatic approach to Sunday’s downtown shutdown.
“My businesses take advantage of everybody else being closed,” he said. “We’re open. They’re closed. We get the business.”
Shirey’s businesses operate seven days a week with Figaro The Dining Room open nearly 90 hours each week.
“If you’re not open enough hours downtown there’s no way to provide good quality employment for your employees nor do you provide good service for your guests,” he said.
Reach Carson Lambert at 803-276-0625, ext. 1868, or on Twitter @TheNBOnews.