JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Signs, signs, everywhere signs.
In recent months a drive through downtown Jonesboro has seemed like a convention of ads for real estate agents and openings.
Once popular and long-time restaurant sites like Piero's, 320 S. Main, and Vino's, 305 S. Main are empty. No customers to be seen through those windows, only empty tables. Lights out.
Official statistics vary on how many businesses have opened and closed in downtown Jonesboro over the years; but, if you walk down Main Street between Washington and Cate looking for realtor signs and obviously empty buildings, you'll find more than a dozen.
But don't use that as the way to take downtown's temperature.
"I feel like this is a gem down here."
Hailey Knight doesn't fall for the for sale signs. As director of the Downtown Jonesboro Association, her job is to sell downtown and weather the ebb and the flow.
"People love downtown," she said. "They love the mom and pop stores. It's something authentic, it's something that speaks to culture."
A culture that was, decades ago, the center of town, geographically and economically. Banks, dry goods. If you wanted them, you came downtown.
But as Jonesboro grew in the late 20th century, it grew away from downtown.
Businesses moved out to Caraway and Red Wolf Boulevard.
It wasn't until the early 2000s that life really started to return to downtown. Private investors, grants and a new attitude made Jonesboro's "old" downtown "historic."
And for some, downtown's new culture meant getting away from what most say is the hottest stretch of real estate in town: Red Wolf Boulevard.
Tommy Westbrook of Westbrook Premiere Kitchen and Bath used to be on Red Wolf. He left behind the highly desired high traffic volume for downtown.
"It worked out good for us to come downtown and be more of a destination business and anchor the corner at Union Street rather than being lost in a shopping center on Stadium," he said.
You could look at all those for sale or for lease signs as a negative; but, for some, it's an opportunity.
For people like Mike Sullivan the failure of Coaches, 303 S. Main, is giving him a chance to open a new Chicago-style restaurant bearing his name, Sully's. They are scheduled to open by the end of May.
"The last five years I've really thought about it," Sullivan said. "I seen this place and it was perfect so I said let's go ahead and do it."
Coming downtown is not without risk. In 2013 Bill Pressly bought 320 S. Main, known to many as the old Piero's building. Since then two different restaurants have come and gone.
"Any real estate is a risk," Pressly said. "But downtown showed so much. Not only retail businesses can come down here and restaurants and there's a lot of lofts. Most of the lofts down here stay rented. Most of these buildings can be not only a great retail place but a great place to live as well."
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