Bus reroute drives business off Broad

The new bus transfer plaza on 9th Street has changed foot traffic patterns on Broad. Photos by Evelyn Rupert.

The new bus transfer plaza on 9th Street has changed foot traffic patterns on Broad. Photos by Evelyn Rupert.

Clay Market at Broad and 2nd streets was quiet at 11 a.m. last Thursday.

But Alex Paul, who was manning the counter at the downtown convenience store, said it wasn’t that way just a few months ago.

“I could not even spare time to talk to you right now,” he said.

A block over from Clay Market, the Friedman’s Loan Office is similarly empty at the 118 E. Broad St. storefront it has operated out of for more than 70 years.

“We used to have people in all the time,” Friedman’s employee George Thomas said. “People used to stop in all the time between bus stops to talk.”

But crowds waiting for the bus in front of Friedman’s and Clay Market have thinned since this spring, and that’s pumped the brakes on business in the three- to four-block section from the beginning of East Broad Street to the convention center’s Broad Street Lecture hall.

Employees at the Clay Market on Broad and 2nd Street say the store is less busy since the bus change.

Employees at the Clay Market on Broad and 2nd Street say the store is less busy since the bus change.

At least two shops within the area have shut in recent months, including one of the few national retail chains on that stretch.

Much of the change seems to stem from the new temporary bus transfer plaza on 9th Street near the John Marshall court building that the Greater Richmond Transit Co. opened in late April. The GRTC is using the plaza to test the feasibility of building and maintaining a permanent transfer station downtown, said GRTC Director of Planning and Scheduling Garland Williams.

About 3,100 people come through that transfer plaza each day, and that number is steadily rising. Previously, Williams said, nearly all of those riders likely would have stopped on Broad Street.

Paul anticipated business would slow some when the buses began bypassing Clay Market. Since April 20th – Paul was quick to remember the date the new transfer plaza opened –  the convenience store has been much emptier than he had imagined.

“It’s been a drastic drop-off,” Paul said, holding his hand at eye level as if to say ‘business was up here’ before throwing it down and smacking the counter in front of him. “Boom!”

While Friedman’s and Clay Market are still sticking it out on East Broad Street, a pair of shops just a couple blocks farther east are closing. Landlords and shop owners for the retailers blamed the closures on the drop in bus passenger foot traffic.

The Foot Locker at 312 E. Broad St. went dark in recent weeks after about an eight-year run. Eden’s Wig Shop across the street is also in the process of shutting down, and a shop owner who declined to give his name said the retailer is closing because bus riders no longer come by the store.

Scott Boyers is the managing member of the group that owns the Foot Locker building. He had high praise for the business as a tenant – one of the only national retailers on the street  – that he said likely paid more rent than other Broad Street shops.

Eden's on East Broad is going out of business.

Eden’s Wig Shop on East Broad is going out of business, following a Foot Locker that was just across the street.

Still, Boyers said he’s been asking the city to lighten bus traffic at his front door for a decade. GRTC’s move is happening as the area around the former Foot Locker may be on the cusp of change in the storefront streetscape, Boyers said.

“That area for too long has had as its only demographic the people who ride the bus down there, and nobody wants to go down there,” he said. “There’s a fairly predictable change of the guard, if you will, that’s kind of in motion.”

A recent BizSense walkthrough  counted 44 businesses operating out of Broad Street-facing storefronts between Foushee and 4th streets. Another 22 spaces were vacant, leaving an occupancy rate of about 67 percent.

That tally takes into account only occupied and vacant stalls. It does not account for square footage numbers, which were not readily available, and storefronts too run-down to house a business in their current condition were counted as vacant.

The storefronts that are fully are occupied primarily by retailers mixed with a few offices. They include several apparel shops, a handful of convenience stores, salons, pawn shops and a few quick-service restaurants.

Martin Blum, a commercial real estate broker with Colliers International, is tasked with filling the space Eden’s Wig Shop will vacate. He said he expects that other nearby shops on Broad Street could struggle without the bus traffic, but he wasn’t able to pinpoint any specific businesses that may be currently on their way out.

Bus traffic on Broad Street was much heavier before the GRTC's new transfer plaza.

Bus traffic on Broad Street was much heavier before the GRTC’s new transfer plaza.

Interest has picked up in the area, Blum said, but it hasn’t been from the same type of shops that currently operate on East Broad Street. Retail real estate in that part of town is now being driven more by restaurants, and not the Subway, New Fish Market and Ann’s Soul Food lunch service eateries that run on Broad Street today.

Blum specifically mentioned more upscale tenants like the Julep’s moving in next to Pasture on Grace Street and Graffiato, which opened last week in the former Popkin Tavern at Broad and Jefferson streets.

Blum said he is courting both retail and restaurant tenants for the wig shop and the storefront next door. He sees the surrounding run on East Broad Street as a busy arts and restaurant district in the coming years, but said it isn’t quite there yet.

“The first thing is that it has to be safe and walkable,” he said. “I think that we’re starting to get to that point, but downtown just is not seen as a retail district yet. It’s not a Carytown and it’s not a Libbie and Grove.”

A step in that direction could be spurred by Washington, D.C.-based Douglas Development. The company is working on putting more than 200 new apartments in the Central National Bank building, a 23-story former office tower at Broad and 3rd streets.

The 23-story Central National Bank tower will be converted into apartments.

The 23-story Central National Bank tower will be converted into apartments.

That conversion on its own is a $20 million project, but Douglas is aiming for a much bigger slice of East Broad Street than just the single acre beneath the Central National Bank.

Douglas owns more than 10 other properties with Broad Street-fronting retail space clustered around the CNB building. The company picked up most of that space between 2005 and 2008. It bought the bank tower property in April 2005 for $5.29 million.

Virtually all of Douglas’ storefronts surrounding the tower are empty. Friedman’s owns its building, as does the McCormick’s Progressive Barber Shop half a block away, but Douglas has nearly all of the remaining storefronts on the north side of East Broad Street’s 100 block.

Every one of the other stalls on the block is boarded up, and Thomas said it’s been that way for several years. In fact, Clay Market and a carry-out fish market next door are the only active tenants in Douglas-owned Broad Street space.

The new bus transfer plaza on 9th Street has changed foot traffic patterns on Broad. Photos by Evelyn Rupert.

The new bus transfer plaza on 9th Street has changed foot traffic patterns on Broad. Photos by Evelyn Rupert.

Clay Market at Broad and 2nd streets was quiet at 11 a.m. last Thursday.

But Alex Paul, who was manning the counter at the downtown convenience store, said it wasn’t that way just a few months ago.

“I could not even spare time to talk to you right now,” he said.

A block over from Clay Market, the Friedman’s Loan Office is similarly empty at the 118 E. Broad St. storefront it has operated out of for more than 70 years.

“We used to have people in all the time,” Friedman’s employee George Thomas said. “People used to stop in all the time between bus stops to talk.”

But crowds waiting for the bus in front of Friedman’s and Clay Market have thinned since this spring, and that’s pumped the brakes on business in the three- to four-block section from the beginning of East Broad Street to the convention center’s Broad Street Lecture hall.

Employees at the Clay Market on Broad and 2nd Street say the store is less busy since the bus change.

Employees at the Clay Market on Broad and 2nd Street say the store is less busy since the bus change.

At least two shops within the area have shut in recent months, including one of the few national retail chains on that stretch.

Much of the change seems to stem from the new temporary bus transfer plaza on 9th Street near the John Marshall court building that the Greater Richmond Transit Co. opened in late April. The GRTC is using the plaza to test the feasibility of building and maintaining a permanent transfer station downtown, said GRTC Director of Planning and Scheduling Garland Williams.

About 3,100 people come through that transfer plaza each day, and that number is steadily rising. Previously, Williams said, nearly all of those riders likely would have stopped on Broad Street.

Paul anticipated business would slow some when the buses began bypassing Clay Market. Since April 20th – Paul was quick to remember the date the new transfer plaza opened –  the convenience store has been much emptier than he had imagined.

“It’s been a drastic drop-off,” Paul said, holding his hand at eye level as if to say ‘business was up here’ before throwing it down and smacking the counter in front of him. “Boom!”

While Friedman’s and Clay Market are still sticking it out on East Broad Street, a pair of shops just a couple blocks farther east are closing. Landlords and shop owners for the retailers blamed the closures on the drop in bus passenger foot traffic.

The Foot Locker at 312 E. Broad St. went dark in recent weeks after about an eight-year run. Eden’s Wig Shop across the street is also in the process of shutting down, and a shop owner who declined to give his name said the retailer is closing because bus riders no longer come by the store.

Scott Boyers is the managing member of the group that owns the Foot Locker building. He had high praise for the business as a tenant – one of the only national retailers on the street  – that he said likely paid more rent than other Broad Street shops.

Eden's on East Broad is going out of business.

Eden’s Wig Shop on East Broad is going out of business, following a Foot Locker that was just across the street.

Still, Boyers said he’s been asking the city to lighten bus traffic at his front door for a decade. GRTC’s move is happening as the area around the former Foot Locker may be on the cusp of change in the storefront streetscape, Boyers said.

“That area for too long has had as its only demographic the people who ride the bus down there, and nobody wants to go down there,” he said. “There’s a fairly predictable change of the guard, if you will, that’s kind of in motion.”

A recent BizSense walkthrough  counted 44 businesses operating out of Broad Street-facing storefronts between Foushee and 4th streets. Another 22 spaces were vacant, leaving an occupancy rate of about 67 percent.

That tally takes into account only occupied and vacant stalls. It does not account for square footage numbers, which were not readily available, and storefronts too run-down to house a business in their current condition were counted as vacant.

The storefronts that are fully are occupied primarily by retailers mixed with a few offices. They include several apparel shops, a handful of convenience stores, salons, pawn shops and a few quick-service restaurants.

Martin Blum, a commercial real estate broker with Colliers International, is tasked with filling the space Eden’s Wig Shop will vacate. He said he expects that other nearby shops on Broad Street could struggle without the bus traffic, but he wasn’t able to pinpoint any specific businesses that may be currently on their way out.

Bus traffic on Broad Street was much heavier before the GRTC's new transfer plaza.

Bus traffic on Broad Street was much heavier before the GRTC’s new transfer plaza.

Interest has picked up in the area, Blum said, but it hasn’t been from the same type of shops that currently operate on East Broad Street. Retail real estate in that part of town is now being driven more by restaurants, and not the Subway, New Fish Market and Ann’s Soul Food lunch service eateries that run on Broad Street today.

Blum specifically mentioned more upscale tenants like the Julep’s moving in next to Pasture on Grace Street and Graffiato, which opened last week in the former Popkin Tavern at Broad and Jefferson streets.

Blum said he is courting both retail and restaurant tenants for the wig shop and the storefront next door. He sees the surrounding run on East Broad Street as a busy arts and restaurant district in the coming years, but said it isn’t quite there yet.

“The first thing is that it has to be safe and walkable,” he said. “I think that we’re starting to get to that point, but downtown just is not seen as a retail district yet. It’s not a Carytown and it’s not a Libbie and Grove.”

A step in that direction could be spurred by Washington, D.C.-based Douglas Development. The company is working on putting more than 200 new apartments in the Central National Bank building, a 23-story former office tower at Broad and 3rd streets.

The 23-story Central National Bank tower will be converted into apartments.

The 23-story Central National Bank tower will be converted into apartments.

That conversion on its own is a $20 million project, but Douglas is aiming for a much bigger slice of East Broad Street than just the single acre beneath the Central National Bank.

Douglas owns more than 10 other properties with Broad Street-fronting retail space clustered around the CNB building. The company picked up most of that space between 2005 and 2008. It bought the bank tower property in April 2005 for $5.29 million.

Virtually all of Douglas’ storefronts surrounding the tower are empty. Friedman’s owns its building, as does the McCormick’s Progressive Barber Shop half a block away, but Douglas has nearly all of the remaining storefronts on the north side of East Broad Street’s 100 block.

Every one of the other stalls on the block is boarded up, and Thomas said it’s been that way for several years. In fact, Clay Market and a carry-out fish market next door are the only active tenants in Douglas-owned Broad Street space.

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Ashley Smith-O'Meara
Ashley Smith-O'Meara
7 years ago

Very interesting changes are coming. As an active resident in this part of town, I can appreciate the vision of Douglas Development – what they’ve accomplished in DC is impressive. However, the buildings they own that are boarded up are constantly littered (my daughter and I walk with our pickers from time to time to clean trash), smell like urine, etc – this has not changed since April. I know they didn’t cause the trash themselves, but as much cash as they sit on, one would think they could put a little into keeping the space they are hoarding for… Read more »

Matt Bauserman
Matt Bauserman
7 years ago

I live near the intersection of 3rd and Broad and am keenly interested in the changes happening in my neighborhood. Some businesses I’m sure are negatively impacted by the bus exchange moving – but the neighborhood on a whole has been improved. There are new business and restaurants opening frequently along the Broad/Grace St corridor. The neighborhood feels safer – and the new VCU police station that the article didn’t mention is only going to help. There are multiple small business owners on Broad between 3rd and 4th that were very happy to have the bus exchange relocated. As someone… Read more »