News that the vacant Riverside Hospital site is finally slated for revival has provided some long-awaited encouragement for downtown business owners — many of whom are anticipating brighter days ahead for the city’s original business district.
Despite the recent losses of some longtime businesses such as A&W and Trenton Lanes, the downtown has been buoyed by the drawing-power of some of its newer restaurants, the slow but steady growth of the Trenton Village Theatre and the emergence several new boutique-style shops.
“The Riverside project will be a tremendous shot in the arm for all of us,” said Chris Hancock, whose Round House BBQ already has earned a reputation as one of the metro Detroit area’s best barbecue restaurants in just one year. “I love being in the (downtown) environment and Trenton fits that bill. I’d love to see this be like a Wyandotte, although we’re light years away from that.”
But some of the key building blocks appear to be taking shape.
Dr. Noel Jackson, a dentist who operates a practice on West Road, right across the alley from Hancock’s business, invested nearly $1 million in renovating his building nearly a decade ago and has remained one of downtown’s biggest advocates. Jackson’s pet passion has been the theater, which he has helped reinvent as the home the Downriver Youth Performing Arts Center, which he also heads as president.
Jackson, who also is a member of the Downtown Development Authority, said the hospital will add to the “synergy” that is forming.
“I’m really looking forward to what’s going on at Riverside Hospital here and the traffic it will bring,” he said. “That means that those people are going to need stuff — lunch, breakfast, dinner — they’ll have to run out to buy things, maybe to the pharmacy… so those types of things will just build on each other.”
Jackson has worked with downtown restaurants in the past to create “dinner and theater” packages, and hopes to see more efforts like that in the future. “Those have really been very, very successful for us.”
The clothing boutique sector gained another arrival over the summer, when Mom’s Little Secret opened on Jefferson between West and St. Joseph. It joined other a couple of other shops that have opened within the last year or so – Diva on a Dime and The Perfect Dress.
The business mix also was enhanced by the opening this summer of Riverside Treasure Shoppe – a combination gift and candy shop and art gallery – in the historic home formerly occupied by Riverside Wedding Chapel.
Hancock sees the potential but said the downtown still need several additional elements to succeed long-term, including more restaurants and shopping options.
“I want to be part of building the downtown,” he said. “I want this to be a destination place for families, but there’s not enough to it.”
He looks at the restaurant sectors as one of the key strengths right now.
“We’re fortunate in that sense,” he said. “I just wish there was more shopping. We need that foot traffic.”
Hancock said the businesses need to find more ways to work together to help revitalize the downtown.
“Downtown Trenton needs a lot, unfortunately,” he said. “It’ needs all of us business owners to stand together.”
Jackson remains the downtown’s eternal optimist.
“There are so many potential things that can be done.”