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Summer arrives, Streetscape gets first true test

The downtown businesses were represented here with Heritage Spinning & Weaving Employee Tress Bare, PNC Bank Manager Monica Squarcia, Accent on Art Owner Diana Ostrand, Tesori Giftís Manager Sallie Keehn, DDA Director Suzanne Perreault, former Elements Owner Bonnie Blais and Little Caesars Manager Leah Jenson. Photo by G. Ouzounian (click for larger version)

May 09, 2012 - Summer is nearly here and the Lake Orion downtown business owners are looking forward to the months of boosted shopping ahead.

2011's summer saw most of that opportunity crushed beneath construction necessary to introduce the downtown's Streetscape - a beautification project that renovated roads, sidewalks and more. Now that the new facade is in place, owners in the area spoke about business before and after the project.

"Things have definitely improved - I see more foot traffic, I see more people and I think that's a good thing," said Diana Ostrand, owner of Accent on Art. "I've been here for almost 23 years and my best years were probably in the early 2000's. (The renovations) are gorgeous and I think it will be very nice in the years to come. I have old post cards and looking outside it is much better."

Ostrand said she had her doubts about the project, particularly when Children's Park was refurbished. Now she said the park looks great and she cannot wait to have music there again.

"The music in the park was always a big plus and we'll definitely be doing the mini golf piece again," she said. "We really just love seeing the families and I really like seeing the fireworks and how people mill about."

Others in the downtown said the shopping level has just about evened out back to pre-construction standards, but were nonetheless happy with some of the changes. Ed's Gifts Owner Lloyd Coe said the benches were a nice touch and that he's seen them being used frequently. He also remarked on the drainage which he said seemed better.

More than anything he hopes the new downtown will translate to a more attractive stopping place after summer events are done.

"We saw people going to these kind of events but not stay in town," said Coe. "It didn't help business at all. It was good for the citizens and the consumers but I'd see people walk to their chairs in the park and walk right back to their cars. If this brings people downtown, that translates into sales at the register, we'll be happy."

Newcomers in town noted that without the renovations they might have passed right over the Lake Orion downtown. Marcella Costin, owner of Simply Marcella, a brand new boutique in downtown, said without the brick and smooth roads, she might have passed on to another town.

"Truthfully, I don't think I would have picked Orion otherwise - this was part of the charm when I came here," said Costin. "The close quarters, you're off the main streets, it's just cozy here. The brick work's beautifully as well."

Deena Maurus, who is in the process of buying out the current owner of the Painted Lady, Debbie Enright, said the atmosphere of the downtown adds to the atmosphere of her store. She believes the new look has helped to bring people in from other areas like "Clarkston, Bloomfield Hills and Rochester."

"While they're here doing lunch they like to stop around to look around at the shops now and this is a cute little corner," she said, referencing the north-east corner of Broadway and Flint. "I like the streets, I like the benches, I like the urns - it just starting to look warmer and more like a downtown. I think the flower fair will attract a lot of people and the Dragon on the Lake is another thing I love about this area. It just feels right now, I cannot describe it any other way."

With all the kind words, it can be easy to forget that Lake Orion's Downtown Development Authority, headed by Director Suzanne Perreault, is busy planning future improvements and events. Next on the list of things to improve is parking - an aspect that was actually injured instead of aided by Streetscape.

"Parking is more of a long term project right now and it's something we're working towards in the future," said Perreault. "Right now our biggest project is working with the property owners over at (the former) Whisky's building to create a parking lot there. We're still doing small beautification projects like getting new banners, hanging baskets, painting signs, budgeting for more Christmas lights for the downtown and we actually have a wonderful volunteer who plants the flowers in the runs at the intersection.

"We're looking to rebrand now that the construction is complete. We're updating our shopping and dining guide, we have our mini golf event, our summer concert series, the farmer's market and we're doing as much as possible to attract people to the downtown district."

The flower fair, which is the next major attraction in downtown Lake Orion, will happen June 2 and 3.

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