It has been about a year since construction began on the corner of First and Bridge, and Franklin residents have become accustomed to the beeping, crashing and occasional lane closures associated with the work. Local business owners, however, say this environment is nothing new.
Harpeth Square, which will amount to a boutique hotel, restaurants, shops, apartments and — yes, you heard right — more parking, has been a long time coming. While this new four-story building fits into the northern corner of downtown Franklin, many operators of surrounding businesses have noticed some changes in the flow of customer traffic, but not necessarily in ways you might expect.
Haley Baker, who works at The Coffee House on Second and Bridge, mentioned that she’s seen more construction workers coming through the shop than she normally would. While she noted the lack of parking during construction may be a deterrent for some customers, people somehow find their way to the house-turned-cafe for their “essential” caffeine fix.
“People have got to have their coffee,” she said, adding that she wondered how some of the other businesses selling nonessentials, such as antiques stores, have been affected.
Kim Tuzzio owns Winchester Antique, a small store that features a variety of classic styles, including French and Americana. She said the shop has been at its current location on Second Avenue for four years, although she has been doing business in downtown Franklin for decades.
Tuzzio noted a bit of a dip in customer traffic, particularly when a portion of Bridge Street was closed off, but she expressed her excitement about a finished Harpeth Square, hoping the new downtown fixture will draw more customers her way.
“With gain comes pain,” she said. “When you have construction, of course there’s going to be a little less traffic, but people know how to get to you. They work their way around it.”
Tuzzio said her customer base is about half tourists, half locals. She expressed excitement that Harpeth Square will not only bring in tourists with the hotel, but locals will have a place to perch as well.
“The restaurants are what I’m excited about as well, because the restaurants will (draw) the local people,” she said. “Plus, the apartments are going to need things.”
One shop owner, however, has noticed a truly unexpected shift: business is booming. Joel Tomlin, owner of Landmark Booksellers, reported that he had the best first six months of the year since he and his wife, Carol, have been in business.
He said this change is probably not a result of the construction, but as tourism has continued to grow, perhaps a few more people than normal have moseyed over to see what the dust plume and bright orange cranes are about.
Tomlin said, since he’s already having such a great year, he’s even more excited to see what business will be like when Harpeth Square is complete. He hopes the new building will make that end of town more central than it currently is.
“If that hotel is about full and the apartments are full, that puts about another 400 people a day on this block, and some of them are going to wander into here by accident,” he said. “But also, they’re going to have other retail shops and, of course, that thing across the street, so this end of town is going to pick up.”
In anticipation of a higher tourist activity, Tomlin is adjusting his stock to cater to this new audience.
“When they get open, we expect a lot more customers to be rolling in here — more of what the majority of our customers are anyway, which are people that don’t live here,” he said. “We’re trying to tweak our inventory and our store to maximize its appeal to these folks that are going to be coming in.”
At the front of his store, he has shelves lined with books about Franklin’s history and the many stories of Williamson County.
However, other businesses have not had such an easy time, as parking has become more of an issue for some than before construction began.
Will DePierri, branch supervisor at Landmark Bank, said the biggest hurdle has been providing parking for employees and customers. The bank’s lot had 40 spots before construction work reduced it down to six. He says there are plans to add only three more upon the project’s finish.
Employees are having to fight over public spots in the parking garage on Second, which DePierri said is often full by 10 a.m. He said employees will have some designated parking in the new Harpeth Square garage, but he still worries that customers will have trouble finding spaces.
Lisa Judd, co-owner of JJ’s Wine Bar, has experienced a similar problem. People have been parking in the business’ limited, customer-only parking spots during the day, before the bar opens at 4 p.m.
She mentioned that, while normal customers do not occupy those spots during the day, they are used for the bar’s private events and are not open to the public.
“What has changed is the mindset that our parking lot is a free, public lot during the day, prior to our opening at 4,” Judd said. “While we do not open to the public until 4, we oftentimes host private (or) corporate brunches, lunches and meetings. When the general public ignores our many … signs and parks in our privately owned lot, there is nowhere for our paying customers and their guests to park. Because of this, we have seemingly been forced to become parking lot bouncers — a position no one wants to hold.”
She added that she does not blame Harpeth Square for this issue but that it is a reality of having limited parking. The garage in the new building will have nearly 600 spots, most of which will be for hotel and apartment residents, but a large portion will be reserved for any visitor who needs a place to park, which could help clear up some of these issues.
Despite any struggles, though, each business had plenty of kind words for the construction team, designer and project manager. Tuzzio, Tomlin, DePierri and Judd all mentioned how easy the crew has been to work with under sometimes difficult circumstances.
Many of them remarked how downtown Franklin has been needing a hotel and hub like Harpeth Square. Tomlin said he believes the height of the building is out of scale with the surrounding businesses but that he is excited about it nonetheless.
“We’ve been here for almost 15 years,” he said. “We have always wanted something like this to be done back here. We need a downtown hotel. We need more parking. We need downtown apartments for people to live here. So, everything they’re doing we have always been thrilled about. The only concern we ever had was the height of it, but again, that’s neither here nor there at this point.”
As this construction project nears its end, the city of Franklin has slated for work to begin on the widening of Franklin Road. Judd said downtown businesses that have been around for any amount of time are used to projects like this.
“Our quaint, 1903-built historic home has been dealing with construction on both sides of the street since the reconstruction of the 231 Public Square building across Main Street. Our old windows have certainly rattled from the blasting, as (have) many of our customers’ nerves, but they have not broken, and the customers keep coming back,” Judd said. “If widening the road will make traffic for residents more efficient or tolerable, then we say bring it on.”
Similarly, Tomlin and Tuzzio expressed that growth is inevitable. New projects bring more business, and they are excited by the prospect.
“There’s always going to be construction here,” Tuzzio said. “I think there’s always going to be something going on, especially with our town growing as fast as it’s growing. They’re going to have to make changes.”