Even in the summer of rain, tourists and local folks stroll up and down Main Street and diners wait 45 minutes for a table. Parking, I hear, is a crisis.
The new stage at the Visitors Center is so big a success that a fuss erupts between dancers and sitters, the former supposedly blocking the view of the latter. The monsoon season of 2013 has delayed the last phase of the streetscape makeover, causing consternation among shopkeepers already frothing about parking and street closings etc., etc., etc.
Allow me to offer three words of advice: Chill. Enjoy. Cash in.
All of the grief is part and parcel of a greater issue: growing pains. And guess what? When it comes to our town's central business district, growing pains is a problem we ought to welcome.
Anyone who thinks Hendersonville has problems need only look across the fruited plain and try to count the number of small- to medium-sized bergs that would beg, plea and pray for the "problems" that we have.
Lack of parking? Hmm. That would be caused by too many people wanting to visit our eight-block street of shops, restaurants and attractions.
A dispute (among a very few) over dancing? Dancing? Dancing? We can only imagine the number of tourism promoters around the country that would kill to have such a problem.
Jackhammers in the streets? Let's have a reality check on that for a moment. The streetscape work has not been primarily about what's above the ground but what's underground. The pipes were collapsing and the other infrastructure was worn out. The city has undertaken to replace all that stuff underground block by block once and for all so it does not have to jackhammer the street over and over. It's true that the work in the 600 block has blocked direct access to Main Street from Seventh Avenue. Yet detours, last we checked, are a widely understood traffic maneuver for getting where you need to go when the way you want to go is blocked. The 600 block is not one of the "festival" blocks of Main Street anyway — another reason the outcry over the construction is overblown.
Leaky water pipes aside, let's consider the Main Street work for what it has achieved. Without it, there would be no West First, Poe House, Never Blue, Jonga Java, Square Root, Moe's BBQ or Playhouse Downtown. An attractive welcoming streetscape begets foot traffic, which begets hungry diners and entertainment seekers, which begets ... cha-ching!
Those shopkeepers who spend all their time looking out on to the street to find a problem might do better turning around to look inside their own shop. Do they have the mix of products that will lure the window shoppers over the threshold? Are they marketing the right way? Are they spending more time on the product line or more time yacking about parking meters and jackhammers and dust?
If you've got a product the public wants, the public will beat a path to your door. We don't hear complaints from Mast General, a bustling attraction, or from the Playhouse Downtown, which is enjoying a run of sellouts in a block-and-a-half strip it shares with five restaurants. Is there any parking? None! Nada! Zip! ... to hear the hype. Yet people seem to find a way. They must be some parking somewhere. Jiminy Christmas! Maybe the diners and theater-goers are walking two blocks!
We can solve downtown parking in a variety of ways. But the cure can be worse than what ails us. We could level a few blocks of historic buildings or erect a steel-and-concrete parking deck or put up flashing neon signs. But then we will have destroyed the small-town character that brought the people downtown to begin with.
We don't hear from the shopkeepers, cooks and investors who understand that what we've got is a good thing. They quietly go about drawing the craft brews, grilling the pig, baking the pies, brewing the coffee and selling the hiking boots — and counting the money.
Are there some parking strategies the city can and should pursue? Sure. But this ain't the crisis people make it out to be. Some people see the glass of downtown Hendersonville as half-full. I see it as overflowing. If people is what you want downtown, and I believe studies will show people are the key, then we're doing well.