Businesses look to bounce back from Washington Street closure

Dec. 18, 2013 @ 05:58 PM

The lunch crowd at Becky’s and Mary’s Restaurant on Washington Street in High Point didn’t have to dodge any barricades to get there Wednesday.
That was a welcome sight to Becky Ingram, who has operated the restaurant with her sister, Mary Ingram, for 40 years. The city closed a two-block section of the street to traffic near their business in October to keep people away from two unsafe buildings.
The street was reopened Tuesday, but the damage from the two-month closure was done, said Becky Ingram.
Some of her loyal customers weren’t deterred, she said, but it was a different story for others who tried to drive in for breakfast or lunch.
“I think we lost some business, because a lot of folks didn’t want to go out of their way to get down here,” said Ingram.
Concerns that the former Kilby Hotel and First Baptist Church Cathedral on Washington Street could be near collapse prompted city officials to close the street. The City Council set a deadline of Jan. 21 for ordering the demolition of the Kilby unless it’s shored up. Both it and the church have historic significance to the community, but the city contends they pose safety threats.
Despite this, the council ordered the closure lifted after an outcry from the community that it was hurting businesses and inconveniencing residents.
One of the people who protested the closure was Andretti Barnes, who works at Hayes Parlor of Tonsorial Arts, a barber shop next to Becky’s and Mary’s.
“Trying to revitalize Washington Street was already hard, but when the road closed, it really made it very difficult to even hold the clients that we had versus going further and gaining more customers, because we didn’t have any traffic at all,” said Barnes. “This is a heavily traveled road, and it gives people that have never seen this area a chance to say, ‘There’s a barber shop or there’s a restaurant or there’s other places to come support.’”
Barnes said the other businesses in his building — a recording studio upstairs, a novelty shop next door and the Ritz event center in the back — were also impacted by the closure.
“We were all missing out on traffic and opportunities,” he said.
The closure had other negative impacts on businesses, as some motorists would drive around the barricades and through the lawns of properties to bypass the street while it was closed, said Charity Belton, president of the Washington Street Business Association.
One of the barricades was set up near the parking lot for Jackie’s Place, a Washington Street jazz club.
Owner Jackie Haizlip said the club is typically open only on weekends and that business was not hurt significantly because of the street closure. She said she’s heard reports, however, of large trucks turning around in her parking lot because of the barricades. She said she’s worried the parking lot may have been damaged because it wasn’t designed to handle heavy vehicles.
“(The closure) has just been a big inconvenience, because it’s the only road that can take a lot of people from point A to point B in this area,” said Haizlip. “There should be some return to normalcy with the street open again.”
Barnes said he hopes the neighborhood can build upon positives like the new city park that recently opened down the street from his shop.
“We’re trying to get a lot more businesses to come down here and beautify the place,” he said.

Supporters of Becky’s and Mary’s Restaurant at 731 Washington St. have organized a “cash mob” fund-raiser for the business that is scheduled for noon on Friday. The idea is to support the restaurant with cash to help it recover from the business it lost during the two-month closure of a portion of Washington Street.