CARLISLE — West High Street is buzzing these days.
"That block, honestly, is going to be the block," said Billy Barnett.
Barnett, who owns South Side Deli with his wife, Amy, is among many recent and near future additions to the block.
There’s Subway, which recently opened a new location at 25 West High St. in a newly renovated building.
Then there’s Helena’s Chocolate Cafe & Creperie, now at 36 W. High St., having moved a few doors closer to the Square in a quest for more space.
Come this fall, South Side Deli will move into Helena’s former space at 46 W. High St., and Warmsprings Salon and Spa will open in 37 W. High St., which was the home of Fast Eddie’s.
Glenn White, executive director of Downtown Carlisle Association, said Vito & Suzanne Iannuzzi, the owners of Miseno’s, have purchased the building at 49 W. High St., which formerly housed Blondie’s Inn, with plans to turn upper floors into housing and make the whole structure “far nicer than what it was.”
Stephanie Patterson Gilbert will move her store, Georgie Lou’s Retro Candy and Gifts, currently at 22 N. Pitt St., into a new space at the corner of Pitt and High streets in mid-September. The larger space will allow Gilbert to expand her offerings and be able to make candy at the store.
About three years ago, Gilbert said she thought West High Street was starting to buzz. It’s where all the newer and innovative things are happening, she said.
“That street is, in some ways, the best mix of new and old,” Gilbert said.
The street is home to two of the oldest restaurants in town: the Hamilton Restaurant and George’s Subs and Pizza. The Carlisle Theatre is historic in its own right. Stores like Miss Ruth’s Time Bomb and Georgie Lou’s capture the retro look while others, like Clothes Vine, Whistlestop Bookshop and even Helena’s, are throwbacks to a different era in the retail business.
Amy Barnett said part of the attraction to move to West High Street were events, like Harvest of the Arts and First Fridays, organized by the Downtown Carlisle Association.
“They’ve been doing a lot of town events on that block,” she said.
White said the association also appreciates the efforts of business owners to create events to complement what they are doing, such as Spooky Saturday and the Bunny Hop at Easter, (both of) which Gilbert organized.
Whiteboards cover most of the walls in White’s office at the Downtown Carlisle Association. Each one details some aspect of the association’s work — often conducted behind the scenes — to make the downtown area attractive to businesses and visitors alike.
It’s the association’s role to draw visitors to the downtown for the first time, and sometimes that is accomplished through events. It’s the job of the businesses, however, to entice visitors to return downtown through their products, hours and service, White said.
“DCA will never claim responsibility for a business success or failure,” White said.
One reason business development downtown is going well is that, with a vacancy rate of 13 percent, property owners don’t feel they have to take the first person that comes along to fill a storefront.
“They are really looking at who will be able to fill a building for a long-term investment,” White said.
He cited the former Seras Cleaners building as an example. Owners Steve Capone and Chris Rice want to see a restaurant there, but are intent on finding the right one, though the retail recruiter has shown it and they’ve had offers, White said.
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The worst thing that could happen would be for a restaurant to set up shop that isn’t a proper fit and end up closing, White said. If there are a series of turnovers in a short period of time, the failures start to be chalked up to the location, not to the individual businesses.
“It’s never really the building that’s the cause of it. It’s the product and the management of the business,” White said.
Billy Barnett looks to one of his core customer groups as a reason for High Street’s renaissance.
“Dickinson could also be drawing this,” he said. It’s a fixture in town that provides a constant flow of people, so it makes sense to want to bring businesses to that end of town, Barnett said.
White agreed. West High Street has built-in foot traffic between the campus and the county buildings, he said. It’s also becoming an integrated college area with student housing on upper floors of commercial buildings — including the Subway.
“There’s that built-in market of students that are out in the street walking,” he said.
A 2007 retail mix study targeted the West High Street area for just such development. It envisioned West High Street as a “university drive” with businesses geared toward 18- to 28-year-olds, White said.
“Hopefully, it overflows to other parts of town,” Billy Barnett said.
So which way will that overflow go?
The only real direction to go is North Hanover, Gilbert said. Other streets are filled with residential properties or offices.
“You have great businesses out there already,” she said.
White said future development is going to be spurred by what happens at former industrial sites on the north side of town.
“Those tracts of land are not going to be vacant for long,” White said. “You’re going to see a lot more movement and evolution on North Hanover.”
Retail development at the former International Automotive Components site will shift the center of town up a block, White said. That would make it an easy walk from the development into the downtown.
In a sense, things are already happening there. Redd’s Smokehouse BBQ, 109 N. Hanover St., is doing well, and the former Carlisle Arts Learning Center at 19 N. Hanover St. has been purchased and will be rehabilitated into a possible restaurant, White said.
White said the association is searching for particular businesses for future development.
Because of the town’s proximity to the Appalachian Trail, the recruiter is looking for a company that specializes in camping, fishing, hunting and hiking. The association is also looking for a craft brewery. Market Cross Pub, 113 N. Hanover St., has done very well, but this is a region in which craft breweries go over well, White said.
White said recruiters are actively seeking a shoe store, a general merchandise store and a corner grocery store. He was adamant that it not be a convenience store, but rather a smaller grocery store offering produce, fresh-sliced meats, breads and other food items.
On High Street now and on Hanover Street in the coming years, White said the ball is rolling and people are willing to work to improve the town.
“If we aren’t past the tipping point, we’re on top of it that people will see there’s a change,” White said.