“Sometimes I’ll go two or three days and not crank my car,” Fricks said. “I think so much of Downtown Rome I’ve made it home for the past 12 years.”
Fricks’ passion for downtown is shared by a growing number of merchants who not only own businesses in the city’s central business district but also live downtown.
Before Fricks and his wife Ramona renovated space above Fricks Furniture, now known as R.J. Fricks, they lived in the old Battey Machinery building, now the Hawthorn Suites hotel.
George Pullen, a retired college professor and former city commissioner, operates a bike shop in the Cotton Block and lives in the same block. Roger Wade recently moved his business, Mattress Direct and Kidz Loft, to the Cotton Block, and has moved into a building right across the street from his shop.
Fricks said the only thing missing from downtown is a small market, a place to go grocery shopping. With all of the residents in the Forrest Place on Broad Street, the West Lofts on Second Avenue, and the old Greystone Hotel apartments, Fricks thinks there is enough population downtown to support such a business.
John and Charles Schroeder tried to open a small grocery store next to Schroeder’s Deli on Broad Street a number of years ago.
John Schroeder said it might have been a matter of timing that the business didn’t succeed. There was nowhere near the residential population downtown then. He also said that neither he nor his brother had any experience running a grocery store.
Greg Sumner, president of Professional Screening and Information, suggests some sort of incentives for property owners to develop their upper stories for residential use. Sumner travels around the state and said, “few downtowns are as well-established as ours, which always makes it nice to come back home to Rome.”
Ira Levy has been as instrumental as anyone in rehabilitating Downtown Rome. He calls downtown the heart of Rome and Floyd County and said that it’s critical to keep the heart pumping.
Levy’s done that by bringing people into places like the Forrest Place apartments and the Hawthorn Suites hotel. He is planning to build a new three-story structure on the site of the old Third Avenue Hotel. That project would include six retail spaces on the first floor and more than two dozen apartments on the second and third floors.
Paula Blevins at C&S Trophies in the Cotton Block said her vision for Downtown Rome includes 100-percent occupancy in all buildings to make downtown, “an even more vibrant destination in which to work, live and play.”
The new Town Green and Chief John Ross Pedestrian Bridge will be important ingredients to the “play” aspect of downtown in the future, she said.
“When we were growing up in Rome, (downtown) was the heartbeat of the community. Everything happened downtown and it was a very exciting place,” said Elaine Abercrombie at Greene’s Jewelers. Building on a sense of community is seen as a key to downtown’s future, according to Abercrombie.
Preserving that sense of community and focusing on the historical element of Downtown Rome are important to Jan Fergerson at Ford Gittings & Kane Jewelers.
“We want the next five generations to enjoy the craftsmanship in these historic buildings,” said Fergerson.
She said the blend of merchants downtown provides products that shoppers typically can’t find elsewhere. “Quality shopping, quality dining and quality entertainment with The Forum, the DeSoto Theatre and even the little sports bars” are important, according to Fergerson.
Roger Wade’s vision for Downtown Rome includes finding the right formula to survive in a different economic climate. He wouldn’t mind seeing some of the larger regional or national retailers come back, he said, because the mom-and-pop retailers can’t afford the cost of renovation and subsequent rental expenses.
Despite of the challenges, Wade is a believer in Downtown Rome and plans to open a hot dog shop at 109 Broad St. sometime after the first of the year. He plans to market to the lunch crowd of government workers, lawyers, insurance agents and accountants who fill downtown during the day but are typically gone at night.
Enhancing pedestrian and bicycle networks through downtown was at the top of a list of opportunities developed during a planning retreat conducted by the Downtown Development Authority in October. A new hotel for downtown, possibly on West Third Street, was a close second on that list, along with a focused entertainment district.
John Schroeder had one of the first places to play in modern-day downtown when he opened his courtyard nearly 30 years ago. It’s still a popular place during good weather.
He said he’d like to see even more events downtown. Events at The Forum and the DeSoto Theatre help make downtown Rome a destination, he noted.
A lot of communities wish they had a downtown as vibrant as Rome’s, Greater Rome Chamber of Commerce President Al Hodge said, adding that many visitors consider Rome’s downtown as a model Main Street. He said the challenge for downtown is to figure out how to accommodate the people who want to play next to the places where people want to live.
The chamber is also interested in the expansion of downtown across the Oostanaula River to include properties along West Third Street.
John Massey at Massey’s Jewelers remembers when he was a young man seeing so many people walking and shopping up and down Broad Street. Massey said he’d like to see Downtown Rome regain that kind of strength again.
It’s the kind of strength you get by braiding together three strands — live, work and play.
This is a series about Downtown Rome.
Part 1: Introduction and what Rome leaders want for downtown
Part 2: What merchants envision for downtown
Part 3: What people who live and play downtown would prefer
Part 4: Law and order downtown
Part 5: What Rome News-Tribune readers have to say
Part 6: What visitors see when they come to Rome