By Elly Cosgrove
Salerno Pizzeria, Bar and Bistro is making changes to attract customers, and other businesses in Lexington are doing the same.
“Sometimes they call it the downtown shuffle,” said Stephanie Wilkinson, executive director of Main Street Lexington. “This is very common in small towns and communities that businesses grow and mature.”
Salerno is adding a wood-fired oven, installing 30 self-serve draft beer lines, renovating the outdoor seating and changing its name to Salerno Wood Fired Pizza. Owner Jason Harris said he expects that the new changes will be ready by early March.
This is the second time in a year that Salerno has changed its look to attract new clients. Harris, who has owned Salerno for just over two years, renovated his restaurant last February to include a bar and dance floor.
“We have a different clientele after a certain hour,” he said, referring to Washington and Lee University law students. “That’s an avenue of income that we were not tapping into before the bar or the remodel.”
Wilkinson, who owns The Red Hen on East Washington Street, said remodeling a restaurant can be “tricky,” but that Salerno’s updates could result in more business.
“They’re kind of re-branding themselves for a new era, which I think is terrific,” she said. “You have to go into it with the idea that whatever you’re putting into it is going to pay off in greater traffic.”
Other storefronts are also getting new looks to lure in customers.
The Shenandoah Attic and Victorian Parlour, both on South Main Street, have re-branded and are now one store. Debbie Darlington and her business partner Jerry Coleman bought the shops from the previous owners, Al and Ernestine Hockaday, and combined the stores by moving the Victorian Parlour into The Shenandoah Attic’s space.
“We want to attract the people whether it’s through aesthetics … [or] doing something a little new and different,” Darlington said.
Another local store, Walkabout Outfitter, moved into its current space on South Main Street over a year ago from West Washington Street. Now, its expanding its retail space.
Elizabeth Boetsch, who has lived in the Lexington area for 40 years, said she is looking forward to Walkabout Outfitter’s expansion.
“I do think that’s great,” she said. “I think they’re one of the best shops here, and it attracts all ages and it’s right on Main Street, so I think that’s perfect.”
Darlington said it’s vital to keep the downtown area updated so that shoppers and diners return.
“I think it’s important for merchants to work together in what they do and support each other, whether that’s through the Chamber or Main Street Lexington,” she said.
Others are skeptical that shoppers will flock to stores downtown, renovated or not.
Jan Perkins, who has worked part-time at Pappagallo on North Main Street for 16 years, said sales have been slow because of changes in shopping habits.
“College students are not coming into town as much and people are shopping online, and I think you’ll find that no matter who you talk to,” she said. “Everybody’s using Amazon, online shopping, free shipping, free returns.”
Local restaurants are a different story.
“I know that the restaurants are still doing okay because kids like to eat out. But talk to the businesses and they’ll say, ‘We don’t see the college kids like we used to.’”
Wilkinson said the restaurant scene is doing so well that Lexington has become a destination for people dining out. That’s why, she said, Salerno’s renovation was a “wise move” to attract more customers.
“It’s not that people were splitting the pie in a different way, the pie is actually getting bigger,” she said. “More people are dining out. Lexington is becoming more of a destination for people to come in and eat.”