By Katy Stewart
Now that the economy is picking up, new businesses are trying their luck in downtown Lexington.
Baby’s First, a store specializing in items for babies and new mothers, opened at 122 S. Main St. in November and launched a website in January. The store celebrated its grand opening earlier this month.
Co-owner Ginny Parker said she expected grandparents to be her main shoppers because of Lexington’s large retirement community, but she’s seen new mothers, too.
“A lot more babies are going to be born here than we expected,” she said.
Parker and her husband, Greg, opened the store with their daughter, Julie Sager, and her husband, Nick. The four have equal ownership in the business.
Parker said they looked at locations in Buena Vista but they liked the atmosphere of downtown Lexington.
She said she knew store turnover downtown was “something that happens a lot.” She and her husband, who have lived in Lexington since 2004, owned another business, Black Dog Café, which closed in late 2006.
Stores that manage to make it past the first three or four years seem to stick, Parker said.
“It’s the catching on that’s the trick,” she said.
Baby’s First is part of an uptick in business development downtown.
“Business licenses trend up and vacancies are down,” said Lisa Markham, the Chamber of Commerce’s promotions manager for downtown. “You do the math.”
Markham has tracked the number of vacant commercial spaces downtown, which includes retail, office and restaurants. On average, there have been 12 vacancies in 2012, down from 16 in 2011 and 18 in 2010.
Business license applications to the city’s commissioner of revenue are on the rise, too. There were 21 applications in 2011, up from 18 in both 2010 and 2009 and 17 in 2008.
These statistics include both new applications and license renewals.
Markham said she thinks the numbers indicate that downtown Lexington is headed in the right direction, but business owners can’t get complacent.
“We have positive momentum, so let’s keep moving ahead,” she said. “We’re working toward keeping shops full.”
The Chamber of Commerce does not actively recruit businesses, but Markham said she helps potential business owners find properties to lease downtown. She assists new businesses find and file the appropriate forms. She also helps with promotions and advertising.
Parker said that the Chamber was helpful in getting the word out about Baby’s First’s grand opening.
“Every month gets a little better,” she said. “We’re not setting the world on fire yet.”
Having both a website and a storefront gives the business a better chance of succeeding, Parker said. The business has already made enough money to cover its operating expenses.
“We made a commitment not to go into debt, because of the economy,” she said. “We can replenish what we’re selling and bring in new things without borrowing from ourselves.”