COLUMBIA — Businesses along Broadway are finally looking the way Carrie Gartner envisioned a year ago when the last pieces of the downtown canopy came down.
Where once a thick concrete slab stood guard over Broadway’s sidewalks, shielding shoppers and pedestrians from the elements, new store signs and colored awnings are starting to hang, creating a new downtown aesthetic.
Gartner, director of Columbia’s Special Business District, describes the new signs and awnings coming up as the “end of a downtown beautification plan,” which has also included the placement of new pedestrian-level street signs and trash cans downtown.
Downtown merchants and building owners hoped removing the canopy would increase visibility for stores and increase shopper traffic. Just in time for the return of thousands of students, that theory will be put to the test.
The old concrete canopy, which lined both sides of Broadway, was built in the late 1960s by a group of downtown property owners.
Courtney Bramon, a partner of A La Campagne, 918 E. Broadway, described the canopy as both charmless and utilitarian.
“It wasn’t the most pleasing aesthetic,” Bramon said. “It had more function than form.”
Erin Keltner, owner of Swank Boutique, 921 E. Broadway, said the new canopyless Broadway “highlights the uniqueness of each store.”
The new aesthetic is being noticed by downtown shoppers.
MU alumna Andrea Smith, 41, now living in Dallas, likes the changes she’s observed.
“Downtown looks more authentic now,” Smith said. “I never really noticed all of the architectural details before.”
There was hesitation, however, among many downtown businesses when they learned of the canopy’s demise.
“We had mixed feelings,” Bramon said. “We were worried that customers wouldn’t shop if the weather was bad.”
Bramon isn’t worried anymore about foot traffic decreasing on Broadway.
“I haven’t seen any impact on traffic,” she said.
The canopy did have its advantage in winter though, said Anna Schmitz, manager of Calhoun’s gift shop at 911 E. Broadway.
“We have to shovel snow now.”