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East County Wednesday, Sep. 16, 2020 1 year ago

Main Street at Lakewood Ranch major events won't return in 2020

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Holiday events among the casualties that provide businesses with a boost.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

Debbie and Mike Driscoll supply Lakewood Ranch with one of the most enjoyable and unique walks in the area with The Fish Hole Miniature Golf business at Main Street at Lakewood Ranch.

To experience the fun, though, people need to walk up to their door, or even past it.

But since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, cancelling most Main Street events — Music on Main, car shows, art shows, the Tribute to Heroes Parade, benefit runs — their exposure to the public and potential customers has been limited.

That's important because the Driscolls have found that even if people don't play miniature golf during an event, the seed has been planted. Sometimes they even hand out coupons to those who pass.

“We’ve found people come back the next night or within a day or two,” Debbie Driscoll said. “It’s amazing.”

Debbie Driscoll said Music on Main, which is held once a month, alone provided them with an extra 20% in revenues compared to a typical Friday night.

Michelle Bridges, owner of Fantasy Flowers of Lakewood Ranch, agrees that she can't wait for the special events to return so she has a bigger pool of potential customers.

“It brings so many people,” Bridges said of special events. “Even if they have no intention of buying, just to get the exposure is huge.”

Some of those people who came for special events did buy. Bridges said her sale of single roses usually increased during special events as did her $15 hand bouquets. She estimated special events provides her with an extra 10-20% of revenues.

“It feels so quiet,” she said of Main Street without the special events. “In the beginning (of COVID-19) it was so scary. But we’re seeing it pick up.”

To generate more business, Bridges revamped the inside of her floral shop to host a popup gift boutique called “Gilly Girls.” Its owners, Sara Sandtner and Jenni Philllips, are selling items such as clothing and home decor.

Bridges is planning some events, including a grand opening for Gilly Girls, to attract customers to her shop, too.

Amanda Zipperer, property manager for Main Street, said other merchants have come up with ideas to generate business. Craft Growlers has offered some outdoor games, while Ed’s Tavern has its trivia nights. Barre 3 and Let’s Create Art partnered Sept. 12 for outdoor tie-dye and exercise classes.

Unfortunately, Zipperer said Main Street itself has postponed events until further notice due to the pandemic. Larger-scale events have been postponed until 2021.

"I believe in the fourth quarter we will introduce some smaller scale outdoor events but we wont continue on with large scale events until next year, best case scenario," Zipperer said. "Trust me when I say we miss the events and the community but we have to do the right thing and keep people safe."

Keith Pandeloglou, executive director of Lakewood Ranch Community Activities Corp., said events like Boo Fest and Holidays Around the Ranch, both of which historically attract thousands of patrons to Main Street, have not been canceled at this time, however they will not be held on Main Street. 

"We're working on alternative formats and/or locations," he said.

In 2020, Main Street was only able to host 10 events through March 6, including three Music on Main concerts and four car shows. Events on the street benefit charity and raise hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. In 2019, Main Street raised more than $851,000 for charity.

Some businesses, which wouldn't appear to be affected by the lack of special events, have been indirectly affected. 

Devon Gurney, manager for Naples Soap Co., said Music on Main and other events generated about 3-5% more revenues for the store, but sales have been more adversely impacted by the lack of restaurant patrons. About 30-40% of foot traffic came from patrons waiting in line for restaurants, or wandering around after finishing a meal. 

Fantasy Flowers of Lakewood Ranch owner Michelle Bridges redesigned the interior of her storefront to accommodate a pop-up boutique, Gilly Girls, co-owned by Sara Sandtner.

“If they don’t survive, we won’t survive,” she said of restaurants.

She said the store also would see a boost in sales and foot traffic when Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch brought bus tours through the area, and during the Sunday farmer’s market, held at Lakewood Ranch Medical Center. The Market at Lakewood Ranch will open again in November.

Naples Soap Co., has survived by increasing its online efforts.

Chris Nebra, owner of Paris Bistro, said he misses the customers brought to Main Street by the art shows. Those looking to spend thousands of dollars on art were more prone to spend $200 on a nice French meal, he said.

Gerard Serrano, owner of Big Olaf Creamery, said his business earned an extra 5-10% in revenues just from special events. Overall, though, he said Big Olaf’s numbers in August were down only 6% compared to August 2019.

Joann Kavanaugh, owner of Arts A Blaze Studio, said she did not get much business from the bigger events, but she would like to see smaller events return.

“We don’t have the foot traffic we normally see,” she said. “If Main Street doesn’t give them a reason to come, they won’t come."

Renee Baggott, president of the Sarasota Film Society, which runs Lakewood Ranch Cinemas, said events didn’t generate ticket sales for the theater, but they did provide much-needed visibility. She estimated 15-20% of memberships for the nonprofit came as a result of people seeing the theater was there and learning about the organization.

“It makes people aware. We are the best kept secret in town,” Baggott said. “If (events are) good for Main Street, it’s good for all of us. If it helps one person on Main Street, it’s going to help us all. We will look very forward to when the events return.”

Some businesses, like Knot Awl Beads, Village Bikes and Vanessa Fine Jewelry, said events on Main Street did not impact their businesses.

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