Highway 45 merchants, unite

January 29, 2011 9:14:00 PM



Downtown Columbus gets a lot of love. It''s clearly no secret that we beat the drum for downtown businesses -- not because our office happens to be downtown, but because we believe a vibrant city center can lift up a city and keep it growing and relevant, especially a city with a downtown as historic and full of potential as ours. 


Helping downtown along is Main Street Columbus, the organization that bands downtown businesses together and promotes the area as a destination. 


But the truth is, most people in Columbus shop along Highway 45. However, the 45 business corridor leaves much to be desired. Frankly, the roadway itself is ugly, cluttered with disjointed power lines, outdated signage, oversized billboards, crumbling curbs and roadways, and a noticeable lack of landscaping. 


Abandoned buildings of all shapes and sizes dot the road as well. Locals keen on traffic problems know when to avoid certain intersections, and steer clear of 45 altogether. (Hint: Highway 82 and 18th Avenue at 5 p.m.) 


All of this is evidence of a lack of adequate zoning rules and neglect by the city dating back decades. 


But despite the negatives, the positives are overwhelming for retailers. Dining choices from barbecue to sushi and everything in between can be found along 45. Of course, Wal-Mart, Kroger and most of the major car dealerships in the city are located along the road. Belk, Reed''s, Old Navy and other clothing stores are there. And, of course, Leigh Mall, with its department stores, restaurants and specialty shops. 


Boutique-style shops including Monograms Plus and Pitty Pats offer high-end gifts and other items you''d be surprised you can find in Columbus. 


Highway 45 is a major retail destination, drawing shoppers to Columbus from across the Golden Triangle and Alabama. 


Yet unlike Main Street, there''s no organization or advocate for the shops, restaurants and other businesses along the corridor. Despite all it offers, there''s no coherent marketing message or master plan to improve the street. 


Main Street Columbus, the organization in the downtown district, holds festivals, open houses and other events designed to raise awareness and bring in shoppers. It coordinates advertising, touting its member businesses. It''s an advocate for beautification. It seeks out grants to improve downtown, and works to attract businesses to empty storefronts. 


Not so on Highway 45, where it''s every business owner for himself. 


There''s missed potential here. The Highway 45 corridor is a sleeping giant that needs to awaken. Businesses along the corridor could only benefit by forming an association, designating a leader, and working to raise funds for beautification, promotions, and other ways to improve the area and draw even more shoppers. 


Retail growth is largely stagnant, not just here but across the region and nation. Still, we''re able to score a few victories amid the recession, most of them along Highway 45. New hotels and restaurants are coming in. Retailer T.J. Maxx will provide a huge shot in the arm, with its plans to locate near Old Navy. 


Imagine how the area could grow and prosper even more if businesses along Highway 45 banded together, demanded more infrastructure attention from the city, and lobbied with one voice for new visitors and business.