Despite revitalization, Loudon business owners need customers

6 News Reporter

LOUDON (WATE) - The city of Loudon got a state grant in 2006 to revitalize its downtown. Officials used a lot of the money to help business owners spruce up their store fronts.

Even with the new looks, business owners have struggled to gain customers, and several businesses have closed.

In fact, two downtown businesses have closed in the past two weeks. Shooz and More shut its doors Monday.

"The biggest task in front of us is to encourage business growth," said Loudon city manager Lynn Mills.

"I think those of us who are still here, we know our customers will continue to support us," said Gail Edwards, who's owned Chic Boutique since February. "We are going to keep going and know it's going to get better."

In a vote Monday night, city council "approved a contract with a regional marketing firm to develop a branding identity for the city of Loudon," Mills said.

"We are going to be branded by Tommy Stokes Design, out of Knoxville, who did Turkey Creek," said Laverne Howard, co-owner of Mark's Downtown Diner.

This branding will also include a marketing plan, creating more signs and information about Loudon for surrounding areas.

Attracting customers is also high on the list of goals. "I think Loudon is still a good kept secret," said Ann Marie Shaver, who's owned Annbelle's Emporium in downtown Loudon for more than a year.

Shaver says many people who come to Loudon are surprised by its safety and what's for sale there.

The business owners who spoke to 6 News Tuesday say it will take four or five more businesses to make downtown a destination for shoppers.

"I'm thinking we are right on the verge of making a break and doing really good," Howard added.

City officials are also working on a residential grant program to help promote growth. They feel if the population grows, that will mean more business for downtown as well.

In the next seven years, officials will get $150,000 to improve the area around the courthouse.