Bobby McCree III

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — Rock Hill community events are bringing foot traffic to the downtown area, in effect, giving local businesses an opportunity to increase sales, according to city leaders.

“The key is to get people down here, to get them to their front door and give them a reason to go inside and spend some money,” said Martin Lane, project specialist for the Economic & Urban Development center of Rock Hill, a non-profit organization that works to attract businesses, visitors and new investment to the city.

“I can bring 10,000 people to their front door, but it is up to them to get them in the front door. Fortunately, we got a strong base and a lot of variety of events downtown to where it is easy for them to do.”

Rock Hill business owners say they’ve seen positive effects from downtown events.

“Clearly every time there is an event, our patronage and revenue increases,” said Jason T. Collett, owner of the Rock Hill Brewing Company, which opened June 2018. “It is very important for us to continue to see events and business growth in downtown, especially in the Old Town Market venue space.”

He said new development downtown has brought “new energy” into Rock Hill and the growth of the craft brew industry encouraged him to open his establishment.

“With these two trends in mind, we felt that a brewery in downtown displaying the name of this great and growing city would be good for the community, good for the city and good for businesses alike,” he said.

“The events the city puts on are great for local businesses. They afford people another reason to come to downtown and see what is going on,” said Mark Van Sickle, co-owner of Legal Remedy Brewing.

“We are thrilled the city reached out to us to host the Farmers Market on Saturday (Sept. 22). The vendors have seen a great increase in patrons and we are happy to provide the space to host the market. The Summer Concert Series, Summer Fest, Tap the Rock and Oktoberfest are all great and well attended. We definitely see an increase in patrons when these occur,” he said.

In 2015, Van Sickle chose Rock Hill as the site for his business because he had enough property to expand his operations and he thought being close to downtown would allow his company to be a part of the events the city hosts, he said.

Briana Wagner, the general manager of Amélie’s French Bakery & Cafe, said she makes sure her doors are open during the events.

“I feel that this is our way of getting involved by showcasing what we have to offer to folks that may have never been downtown before or have ever heard of Amélie’s,” she said. “I think that the city does a great job showcasing the beauty of Rock Hill through these events and the positive changes that they are making in the surrounding area.”

Amélie’s started operations in 2007 and currently has five locations in the Charlotte area and one in Atlanta. Wagner said the owners spent some time in Rock Hill and saw the city’s plans for growth in the Old Town area.

“We see a surge in people that do not live in Rock Hill coming downtown for these special events that the city puts on. It is very beneficial for us here at Amélie’s and helps us get new people in through our doors,” she said.

Lane said the city’s ChristmasVille event, which is held the first week of December, is one that has been especially lucrative for local businesses.

“They say they can do three or four months’ worth of revenue in those three days at ChristmasVille if the weather cooperates and we have a good crowd. They are doing really well around our events,” said Lane.

“For a long time through the 1980s and even early 1990s, downtown Rock Hill was not doing really well. It has been trying to reinvent itself several times, but here recently, probably in the last five or six years, things have been really taking off and I see that events play a vital role. In that we are able to bring in people from out of town or people who would not come downtown, show them what we got and hopefully they will come back spending some money,” he said.

“We have seen a significant change in Rock Hill in the short time we have been here,” said Sickle. “From additional breweries opening up to new restaurants, apartments, Knowledge Park and the events the city puts on have been some of the notable changes. The city has taken time and energy into revitalizing downtown to attract redevelopment, as well as new development.”

Collett said he’s excited about the growth in Rock Hill, which he believes has come from attracting diverse businesses.

“Sports tourism and the technology focus have been a game changer and put Rock Hill on the map. Diversity in businesses, start-ups, technology and the fantastic community, political and government support in propelling that growth forward,” said Collett.

“I think our city is doing a pretty good job of trying to gauge what it is that people are looking for now in the way of fun and entertainment and then finding a way to create or attract festivals that fit the bill,” said Terry Windell, co-owner of the Overhead Station gift shop. “I think when people see other people having fun, it tends to make the area itself feel fun and interesting. The area becomes known as a destination.”

“Rock Hill has changed over the years by attracting new businesses. From the new apartments, to the continued planning of events like Christmasville, these attractions will continue to bring people downtown,” Wagner said.

One recent attraction of note was the 2017 UCI BMX World Championships, which Lane said brought people from 40 countries to downtown Rock Hill for the opening ceremony.

He said that event, which was combined with the city’s Food Truck Friday, brought roughly 40,000 people downtown.

It was an event the city and local businesses could “hang their hat on and really show the world what Rock Hill is all about,” said Lane.

“If we as a city continue to be smart about having good, diverse and meaningful events combined with the wisdom to secure and approve complimentary businesses and not saturate with just duplicating what we already have, then new businesses will fill those empty storefronts,” said Collett.