Heard it Here

Wake Forest Students Cover Downtown Winston-Salem

First-Annual Shop the Block Event Promotes Local Retail

Earlier this month, 35 retailers in downtown Winston-Salem handed out lime green, cloth bags and coupon books to shoppers who ventured downtown to “Shop the Block.”

From Oct. 5-8, each retailer that participated in “Shop the Block” offered a coupon with a unique deal that could be redeemed by customers. The inaugural event was organized by the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership.

“We have done many promotions for restaurants and businesses in general, but we felt and heard suggestions that we should do a retail promotion,” said Jason Thiel, who has served as the President of the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership since January, 2006.

The Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership began in 1987 as a group of community leaders with the best interests of downtown at heart to serve as the link between the city and residents, business-owners, restaurateurs, retailers and community members. The Partnership also organizes various events like the Summer Music Series, Restaurant Weeks, and most recently, “Shop the Block.”

The event was organized not only to support the local retailers of downtown but also in an effort to encourage city residents to buy locally and shop in the area that was once the primary retail hub of Winston-Salem.

“Downtown used to be the only place you could get retail,” said Thiel, referring to the era before retail spread to the suburbs and commercial shops opened in new developments like Hanes Mall and Thruway Shopping Center.

Many of the shops that lined the streets of downtown used to be department stores. Today, specialty small businesses like art galleries, clothing boutiques, tattoo shops and antique stores make up the downtown retail scene. One of these shops is Body and Soul on Trade Street.

“It’s the first year of it, and I think it’s wonderful for the city to support local retailers,” said Suggs, who opened Body and Soul 14 years ago. “They have all of these other events for going out to eat and enjoying the arts, so I’m happy that they decided to do this to promote the retailers in town as well.”

Body and Soul is a specialty shop for those interested in healing bath soaps to books written by African-American authors to handmade jewelry from artisans in countries around the world and more.

“Never underestimate the power of God,” Suggs said. “He knew there were people in the area who desired this kind of business, who needed this, who wanted this.”

Dana Suggs, owner of Body and Soul on Trade Street, fans the handful of 10% off coupons that were redeemed between Thursday and Saturday morning.

Dana Suggs, owner of Body and Soul on Trade Street, fans the handful of 10% off coupons that were redeemed between Thursday and Saturday morning.

In the 14 years since Body and Soul first opened, the scope of downtown has changed as new retailers have brought their businesses to the area.

Another business, Fourth & Trade, sells art, antiques, trinkets and home goods at its location at the intersection of Fourth and Trade Street.

“It’s definitely come a long way,” said Hannah Giles, a shopper who toted her green bag as she strolled around Fourth & Trade, looking for items to put toward the coupon granting her 15% off her entire purchase. “When I was in high school, we got the Mellow Mushroom, and that’s the only reason we would ever go downtown. It was dangerous.”

But even though “Shop the Block” has encouraged some city residents to shop downtown, not every shop has seen an increase in business as a result of the event.

“We’ve only had a handful of people come in,” said Elise Pollard, the front-of-store manager and pastry chef at Black Mountain Chocolate.

Deboranell Smith, a volunteer for the nonprofit Art For Art’s Sake (AFAS) Red Dog Gallery had a similar story.

“We haven’t had a single coupon redeemed,” said Smith. “And I don’t know why.”

Down the hall and to the left, AFAS’s Art Director, Julie Knabb, had just wrapped up a workshop at her bead shop and artisan atelier, Studio 2.

“I’ve had good luck with it, but I had advertised on Facebook,” said Knabb in regard to her successful turnout for “Shop the Block.” “I think it’s important for the retail person to do their part in promoting events like this.”

Though the anecdotal feedback and quantitative results from retailer sales have yet to be gathered, Thiel is proud of “Shop the Block’s” success.

“It’s hard when you’re creating something entirely new and adding something new to our load as a staff,” Thiel said. “But I think we did well and I think our retailers did a great job in promoting it as well.”


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