On Tuesday, Pickens residents were asked to give input aimed at helping the future growth plans of the city.
On Wednesday morning, local business owners were asked to take part in the same process.
The meeting was held as part of a Charrette, or intense planning session, moderated by the Main Street South Carolina program.
The meeting was led by Tripp Muldrow, member of the Main Street South Carolina design team.
Merchants are weathering the economic storm and some of even seeing more customers than ever.
As part of the charrette, a zip code survey is being undertaken, to give merchants a better idea of where their customers are coming from.
Muldrow asked the meeting's attendees where their customers are coming from.
“Where do you perceive your market area and what markets would love to break into? Is it Pickens itself or Pickens and the surrounding rural area? Do Easley people come here at all?”
Area merchants are seeing customers come from a wide range of areas, including Seneca, Clemson, Greenville, Cashiers, NC, Columbia and Orangeburg.
Some said Pickens residents are among the customer base, but not as many as they had expected.
“It's an interesting question,” Muldrow said. “Folks here can shop their local merchants but they're just a few minutes away from Easley. If they want to hit a bigger city, they can head over to Greenville and be back in a couple of hours.”
Some Pickens teens said in an input meeting held on Tuesday that while they may travel to Easley to shop, they're sticking to the JC Penney/Hobby Lobby/Belk shopping center and haven't explored the new Easley Town Center as yet.
Jeannie Gilstrap of Stockade and Stuff and NAPA Auto said that she lives in Easley and hasn't shopped at the new center yet either.
“Besides, there's no reason to shop in Easley,” Gilstrap said. “We have everything in Pickens and we have it better.”
Muldrow asked the merchants what they would like to see regarding physical improvements to Pickens and its infrastructure.
Donald Collins said he'd like to see more bike trails connecting Pickens with other communities.
“It would be great if we could hook up to the Swamp Rabbit Trail somehow,” Collins said. “Bikers are reluctant to ride on the roads. It'd be great if we could get some bike lanes on the roads.
“Bike racks in front of the shops also to encourage people to park their bikes and walk in,” said Margaret Collins.
The design team was recently in Travelers Rest, Muldrow said.
“The numbers relating to the impact of the Swamp Rabbit Trail are indisputable,” he said. “It's had a profound impact on their downtown, which … was a pretty sad place 10 years ago. It's really starting to pick up. Most folks are directly attributing that to the cycling traffic that Swamp Rabbit is generating.”
Margaret Collins said changes in zoning needed to be made to attract more retail businesses downtown, rather than additional law offices who want to locate near the Pickens County Courthouse.
“That's a very big problem that we see in a lot of courthouse communities,” Muldrow said. “There's a huge attorney base because they need, want, desire to be close to the courthouse to serve their clients.”
Merchants agreed the city needs more parking, especially past Catherine Street.
“Once you get past Catherine Street, there's really none,” said David Crane of U Roll Em. “Now that's the end of the downtown area, but there's still businesses there as well.”
Muldrow asked how the merchants are marketing and advertising businesses.
Margaret Collins said she and other merchants are planning a monthly “Third Friday” event.
The event is still in the planning stages, but she said every third Friday businesses will keep later hours “and create some sort of incentive for (customers) to go into every store.”
“A lot of the merchants are already showing enthusiasm,” Collins said.
“I like those kind of events,” Muldrow said. “They're very retail specific. They're trying to get you into the door of the shop. We've seen those be very successful.”
He suggested participating businesses mark themselves somehow, perhaps by placing a balloon at the entrance to the store.
“Everybody knows if you have a balloon that you're one of the ones staying open late,” Muldrow said. “It becomes sort of a social event. You get to see all of your friends and neighbors as you're strolling from spot to spot.”
Collins said the third Friday of the month was selected to avoid competing with Greenville's first Friday events and also to tie in with the Third Saturday events at the Hagood Mill in Pickens.
Gilstrap said that Pickens is unique in the number of highways that join up in town.
“Everything that leads to the mountains and the lakes culminates right here,” she said. “We have 'Where the Mountains Begin. We could have 'Where the Lakes begin. All the headwaters of the lakes begin right here.
“We don't need for the roads to go anywhere, we just need people to come here and stay,” Gilstrap continued.
Merchants input will be part of the final report prepared by the team. That report will be unveiled 12pm Thursday, July 19 at the Pickens County Museum
The report will include a physical strategy taking some ongoing projects and “connecting it all together.”
“How do we connect the dots between everything that's going on?” Muldrow said.
It will also include “very specific opportunities for retail growth and expansion as a result of what we discovered,” Muldrow said. “We'll be looking at about 50-60 different retail categories.”
The report will look at both existing markets and opportunities for new customers from nearby areas.
“Maybe you have a toehold, but you need a foothold,” Muldrow said.