RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Traffic on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh isn’t the same as it was pre-pandemic.

“There are some areas of opportunity to get more foot traffic on Fayetteville Street,” said Johnny Hackett, Jr.

He opened Black Dollar Corp., just west of Fayetteville Street on West Hargett Street, in Dec. 2021.

His store allows small business owners from the area a space to sell their products.

“We had a health pandemic. We had another – a social pandemic during that year. That caused a lot of spots to go vacant,” he said.

Still, opening his retail store during that time, however, wasn’t a difficult choice.

“We wanted to do our part for the city to start to revitalize certain spaces in downtown Raleigh. This space was vacant,” said Hackett.

Now, as a board member of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, he’s working to come up with new ideas to bring new energy to the area.

“The more things that are happening around here, the more foot traffic, the more folks are spending – the more money that is going back to small business owners,” he said.

DRA is partnering with businesses like Hackett’s, landlords, and the city to shake things up on Fayetteville Street.

“It’s really a more important, Main Street, than people might realize,” said Bill King, president and CEO of DRA.

King said the main drivers of traffic to the area have changed as office workers have gone fully remote or are working a hybrid work schedule. That requires them to get creative with solutions.

“How office employees come downtown is different. How events happen is different. How visitors come is different, so we need to make sure we adjust to that,” said King.

Filling empty space

The biggest issue he sees is the number of vacant storefronts.

DRA now has a task force charged with filling spaces. They also have a grant program aimed at helping minority and women-owned businesses open up storefronts downtown.

“You really can’t approach it with just one type of solution,” Kind said.

King also wants to see public spaces be more engaging like they’ve done with the new micro soccer field.

Other ideas listed in the public realm study included interactive art installations, LED screens for sporting event viewings, and interactive elements to draw people in.

“I see a Fayetteville Street where the storefronts are full, where the public spaces like City Plaza and Exchange Plaza are activated and fun and engaging all the item – whether that’s with events, or with public art or other activation. And people know to come to Fayetteville Street because its unique, it’s interesting and they feel it’s a good reflection of their city,” King said.

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Social District

DRA also advocated for a social district to be brought to Fayetteville Street. The district allows patrons to take alcoholic drinks from a bar or restaurant, out to neighboring streets for a sip-and-stroll experience.

The goal is to entice visitors to come to the area and encourage them to visit local businesses.

The social district pilot program will go into effect Aug. 15.

It will operate seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Drinks will be given in specially labeled disposable cups to identify where they came from.

The district will not be in effect during special events if the event overlaps with any areas covered by the district.  

There will be a status report on the pilot social district presented to the council in early 2023, to see how well it works and if further adjustments need to be made.