CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — In the last four years, retail vacancy rates in Chapel Hill have jumped. Now there is an effort to make sure Franklin Street does not take the same dead end turn as other main streets.
Franklin Street runs right through the heart of downtown Chapel Hill. In recent years though, some say the town's main drag has become a drag.
"It used to be a fun place and it's just not fun anymore. It definitely needs to be spruced up," Chapel Hill resident Nick Monroe said.
There are problems, including panhandling, parking and plenty of empty storefronts.
"Spaces are not renting quickly. It's sad to see that," said Diana Mclennan, who works on Franklin Street.
In May, after more than a decade on Franklin Street, Gap decided to close. Sephora and Michael Jordan's 23 closed, as well.
Some stores are opting for mall locations, some are in search of lower rent and others are closing altogether.
That is where the Downtown Economic Development Corporation comes in. The newly formed group hopes to guide Franklin Street into the future.
"We want to encourage people to come to the downtown area for shopping and events and dining," said Andrea Rohrbacher of the Downtown Economic Development Corp.
They plan to look at marketing and ways to improve parking and enhance safety.
Longtime tenants say it is a move in the right direction.
"Our streets are in good shape, we just need to fill in the gaps," store owner Charlie House said.
The goal is to change the face of Franklin Street, while keeping its character.
The town has already made some improvements to Franklin Street in an effort to make it more appealing to businesses and shoppers.
Within the last year, it has increased sidewalk lighting and added benches and brick planters.