You spoke out, they listened. The River District Association, which aims to improve Rockford's downtown atmosphere, conducted a survey on how to make that area better for consumers. One of the main requests, more retail.
More than 60% of survey-takers rate downtown's retail scene as below average or poor. So now, shops are committing to staying open longer and promoting each other's businesses.
"That'll start October 13th, the pop-up shops should be open about the same time or opening about the same time." -says River District Association Contractor Pam Schallhorn.
One local business owner says micro-retailers, or 'pop-up shops,' offer a new experience not just for consumers, but entrepreneurs as well.
"To do a pop-up shop, they can kind of get their feet wet and see if it'll work out for them at a lower budget." -says Rockford Art Deli owner Jarrod Hennis.
These shops will be located just off State Street.
"The manager at Stewart Square has offered to put five pop-up shops in the hallways, we've already got one confirmed." -says Schallhorn.
The River District Association is also asking that larger retail shops help each other out.
"We have another group of retailers that have gotten together, about 18 of them that are going to put together a flyer and a map and cross-market, and all of them have confirmed to being open on Saturdays through the holiday season." -Schallhorn boasts.
Survey takers didn't stop with retail. The variety of their answers should keep the association plenty busy.
"They'd love to see more of everything. They want to see more usage of the riverfront, they'd like to see more street vendors, street musicians. I just think they like to have fun downtown." -adds Schallhorn.
A full copy of the survey findings can be found here.
Over 1,100 people told the River District Association what they want to see more of in Downtown Rockford.
The association sent out a survey earlier this year asking the public what they like about downtown and what they want to see changed. While 65 percent of respondents say they "play" downtown, there were still many requests for improvements.
One of the biggest opportunities for change seems to be in the retail sector. Respondents requested better hours for stores on the weekend, better marketing for businesses that are already located downtown, and more "mini-events" like cooking demonstrations and fashion shows. Respondents also requested more retail options like specialty foods/deli, more art galleries, flower markets, pottery shops, an upscale used bookstore, and more.
Respondents also felt that the area should take more advantage of the river with more retail and dining options along the river as well as boat rentals and street musicians.
When it came to dining, respondents praised the many dining options currently available like Kuma's, Octane, and Social. However, they also requested more diverse ethnic restaurants, coffee shops, an upscale steak house, and a dinner theater.
Safety and transportation were also concerns. Over 57 percent of respondents stated they felt safe downtown with 39.7 percent stating they felt unsafe. However, there were not many actual sightings of criminal activity and many respondents that moved downtown subsequently felt safer. Respondents requested more lighting and police presence. When it came to transportation, a trolley or shuttle was requested in order to help with parking.
Overall, 65 percent of the 1,147 respondents said they loved to play downtown and would love to see more of what they already enjoy downtown with a few additions here and there.
"This survey is providing us with valuable information about what the downtown consumer really wants," President of the River District Association Gary Anderson said. "This in turn will assist us in helping existing businesses to thrive and also to attract new businesses into downtown."
The River District Association is currently discussing the data found in the survey and discussing ways to move downtown forward. Moving in the direction of retail seems to be the next step for the association.
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