Revitalization of Anniston street helps bring surge in business

Rachael Scarborough King
Star Staff Writer
Published: June 16, 2006

When Patrick Wigley decided to open his own bicycle shop last year, Noble Street in downtown Anniston was the obvious choice for the store’s location.

“The more I got to know the town, the more I thought the coolest spot in town to have a bike shop was on Noble Street,” said Wigley, the owner of Wig’s Wheels at 11th and Noble.

The location is ideal, Wigley said, because of its convenient location for many professionals in Anniston and because the side streets provide a safe, low-traffic area for test-riding bikes.

Boarded-up storefronts on and around Noble Street are familiar sights for many Anniston residents. But as revitalization continues, with plans to renovate the former AmSouth building and the first of three phases complete in a redevelopment plan, more small businesses are choosing Noble Street. Even older stores say their volume of business has increased in recent years.

“Absolutely, we have seen an amazing increase in business,” said Jennie Preston, owner of the Rabbit Hutch gift shop at 10th and Noble.

Since June 2003 the city of Anniston has spent about $2.5 million rehabilitating the building façades and streetscape downtown in an effort to revitalize the area and keep stores and restaurants in the city.

Katie Smith-Strickland, director of public relations and special events at Spirit of Anniston, described the area as booming.

“We offer something that some other surrounding areas don’t because, you know, we are the oldest area in Calhoun County pretty much and I think that’s it’s so unique to be a part of downtown Noble Street,” she said.

She added that less than 5 percent of the buildings in the “core downtown” are currently empty, a drop from 8 percent five years ago.

Some business owners and employees in the area said the location has its drawbacks compared with nearby Oxford, which attracts greater street traffic and is closer to the Interstate.

“It’s a struggle down here,” said Michael Avery, manager of the six-month-old Crimson Tiger Bar and Grill. “Honestly, for me I would have never picked this location for a bar.”

Avery said the local regulations, which require that at least 40 percent of a bar/grill’s business be food, create problems for places that would be more suited to a purely bar atmosphere.

“The city’s making it really tough for bars,” he said. “We’re sitting in the buckle of the Bible Belt … (people are) going to piss and moan every time someone opens up a bar – you know, alcohol’s not illegal.”

But, he added, the Crimson Tiger is doing well and he thinks its neighbors are, too.

Many business owners said the central location – close to many banks, law offices, and Regional Medical Center – and the historic feel of downtown drew them to Noble Street.

“There’s been such a growth with downtown especially since the Streetscape project,” Preston of the Rabbit Hutch said. “The area just seems to be growing and growing.”

That development has brought some problems with parking. Customers used to empty spots sometimes have to park blocks away from their destinations.

Preston said she thought the parking situation was not yet serious, adding that visitors to downtown do not have to walk “a mile before you even make it into the building” like in the parking lots at other locations.

Commercial development in Anniston is often compared to that of Oxford, which has seen huge growth in recent years. But Sherri Sumners, president of the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, said that “comparing the two is just really not helpful.”

“It will always be a different type of development,” she said. “They have different economic advantages, there’s a difference between a downtown and an interstate.”

Sharrell Dorsey, owner of Dorsey’s Market in Oxford, said he thinks Oxford is more welcoming to new businesses, but that he would “not be afraid” to go into business in Anniston.

“Of course they say the three things that helps retailers, location, location, location, but that’s not necessarily true,” he said. “There’s some great opportunities for Anniston even in retail, and I think they’ve proven that to a point in downtown Anniston.”

Across the country, cities are trying to revitalize their traditional downtown areas. Smith-Strickland of Spirit of Anniston said the Noble Street project was modeled on initiatives in cities like Gadsden and Decatur.

“That’s really a new trend in America right now, old downtowns are really turning into entertainment spots in the evening,” she said. “There’s just something really neat about taking a 100- or 150-year-old building and changing it around to something you can do business in but keeping the quirks.”

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