Progress 2021: DGI reflects on 2020, hopeful for new year

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From left to right, Shane Ellison, Kay Moore and Eric Wright enjoy First Friday.

By Katie Bohannon, News Editor

While 2020 welcomed a new decade for Gadsden, the unexpected rung in a series of challenges for the downtown district. Despite enduring COVID-19’s effects on local businesses, downtown Gadsden overcame each obstacle that arose, representing the power of positive attitudes and community support.

“I think 2020 saw us growing closer together,” said Downtown Gadsden, Inc. Director Kay Moore. “When negative things happen, you tend to ban together and become a little closer. The positive attitudes each merchant had in working together was exemplary in 2020. That was the biggest thing that I saw – the positive attitude and working together.”

Prior to the mid-March shutdown due to the pandemic, Downtown Gadsden, Inc. hosted its 13th Annual Chili Cook-Off, Downtown Gadsden Gives Back, Girls Night Out and the St. Patrick’s Day Pub Crawl. With the exception of September, the community favorite and regionally recognized First Friday was cancelled in 2020. Other COVID-19 cancellations included the Spring Preparedness event, Party with a Purpose at the Pitman, the DGI Biennial meeting, Third Thursday and Musical Mondays. Sunset Sips, DGI’s largest fundraiser scheduled for October (raising money for additional improvements downtown), was also canceled.

Even in the midst of the pandemic, new businesses flocked to Broad Street and beyond, joining a collection of merchants committed to their community. DGI welcomed 10 new businesses to downtown, while four businesses either relocated to other areas or closed. This resulted in a net gain of six new businesses in the historic downtown area. The new businesses that opened during this pandemic reflect the positive attitude of owners who believe in the strength of downtown. Along with the established businesses, they share the vision of the Main Street Community, and by working together, will continue to grow stronger.

The French Quarter came to Etowah County with the new creole-inspired restaurant NOLA on 2nd, while Glencoe’s Big Chief expanded to Gadsden, opening The Downtown Chief at 210 Locust Street. Though The Rail formerly inhabited that location, The Rail moved to Blu Chophouse’s previous building on Broad.

Gadsden AL Nutrition swept N 7th Street, offering citizens with healthy protein shakes and tea bombs, while husband-wife dynamic duo Kossi and Tanita Amegble opened Scoop Du Jour Creamery & Desserts at 512 A Broad Street, a specialty shop filled with mouth-watering treats that sprinkle a bit of happiness into every bite. Downtown Gadsden also witnessed the closing and reopening of its iconic Gadsden Variety, which was purchased by Blake and Heather New.

Recreational businesses were established downtown in 2020, including Tut Hookah Lounge and Lagatha’s House of Axe, where residents can channel their inner Viking and sharpen their axe-throwing skills.

During 2020, there were five property sales totaling more than $1,700,000. These sales, along with another $1,400,000 in renovations, provided remarkable improvements in the historic district. Currently there are 25 loft apartments located in downtown Gadsden. There are now 16 loft apartments in the planning/finishing stages for a total of 41 lofts, hopefully by the end of 2021. Loft living is an important factor in the growth of the downtown area, and DGI remains excited to see witness its progress.

The Main Street Alabama Conference scheduled to be held in Monroeville was canceled due to COVID restrictions. Main Street Alabama President Mary Helmer Wirth presented the awards personally to the following winners: Main Street Hero award – Catherine Martin, Exchange Bank; Excellence in Adaptive Reuse – Non Historic – Campbell Development for the 612 Broad Street Renovation; Excellence in Building Design – Jones Land Development, 430 Broad Street;

Excellence in Historic Rehabilitation – Knowles & Sullivan, 413 Broad Street; and Excellence in Planning/Public Spaces – After Classes sculpture, 501 Broad Street.

Moore accredits downtown Gadsden’s success to its merchants and restaurants whose combined efforts make downtown an incredible place to visit, shop, eat and drink. She noted that DGI depends heavily on its financial sponsors and welcomes support from individuals as well. Downtown Gadsden’s working partnership with the City of Gadsden, Greater Gadsden Area Tourism, Mary G. Hardin Center for Cultural Arts, the Gadsden Museum of Art and Main Street Alabama allows DGI to continue to grow and prosper, recruiting more businesses in the downtown area while supporting existing businesses. These strong partnerships, in turn, strengthen the entire community.

Moore expressed her gratitude for the community’s support in 2020 and encouraged citizens to continue considering the merchants who strive to provide them with incredible service.

“Support your local businesses,” said Moore. “We’re a huge part of the community. Think local first. We don’t have everything, but if you have a chance to come and shop with local businesses, especially downtown, support them. They’re here and they need your support.”

Moore offered words of reassurance to Gadsden merchants, while envisioning a brighter future.

“Keep the faith, keep your head up, and let’s keep moving forward,” she said.

For more information, visit DowntownGadsden.com, along with social media pages on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Article supplemented by Kay Moore, DGI Executive Director 

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