Downtown staying open later on Thursdays this holiday season

It’s long been a chicken or an egg scenario as to whether downtown businesses would stay open later to bring people downtown, or if people would have to be downtown before businesses would stay open later.

But starting Nov. 7 and running through the end of the year, several downtown businesses are staying open until 8 p.m. on Thursdays in an effort to move the needle.

Electric City Coffee started their extended hours on Oct. 24 and will be open till 8 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, with the exception of Halloween night.

Tracy Perry, owner of The Blue Rose, said during the downtown visioning session on Oct. 2 she heard multiple people say it would be nice if downtown would be open later.

Not long after that, Kellie Pierce of the Downtown Great Falls Association, was in Perry’s shop and the two chatted about the idea of staying open later.

“Why don’t we just give it a whirl,” Perry said was their thought.

Pierce sent a survey to downtown businesses and customers asking if they’d be willing to stay open later or shop later on Thursdays.

About 80 percent of respondents said they would support later hours on Thursdays, a night the downtown often hosts special events so they thought it would be a good day to start with consistent extended hours. One of the upcoming events is Ladies Night on Nov. 21.

Perry typically closes at 5:30 p.m. during the week, as does her neighbor Kattie Meyer, owner of Motifs for the Home.

Perry and Meyer said many people work during the day when their shops are open so it’s tough for some people to shop downtown retail.

After Thanksgiving, Perry said she’ll also be open noon to 4 p.m. Sundays through Christmas Eve.

Perry can staff the extra hours herself and so it won’t add labor costs initially, but if it gets busy during the extra hours, she’ll need to add staff, she said.

She’s hoping it does get busy on Thursday evenings.

“It’s kind of exciting,” she said. “And I just hope it will bring more people downtown.”

Perry said the downtown association could do another survey in January to gauge how it went for retailers and if they’re willing to continue into the new year.

“We’ll have to crap shoot it,” she said. “That’s what business is, big ole crap shoot.”

Meyer said that the thought is if more shops are open later, versus just a few, it will give shoppers more reason to come downtown.

Brian Kaufman of Kaufmans Menswear said they’ll also be staying open later on Thursdays.

“There’s been a culture change in downtown Great Falls. It’s definitely shifted to more nighttime activities,” he said and Kaufmans wants to be a part of bringing people downtown.

Veronica Ronnau, owner of Pizazz, said she’d also be keeping her store open later on Thursdays beginning Nov. 7.

They’ll offer cocktails and wine tastings to help spread the word that they have a full liquor license, she said.

“This is a big deal for us. It’s really going to be customer dependent. If they come down and support it, then we’ll continue,” she said.

Ronnau said if customers don’t have to pay meters after 5 p.m., they can shop, eat and drink downtown without worrying about moving their car every two hours.

“But enough of us have to stay open to make worth people’s while,” Ronnau said. “I’m willing to do my part to stay open.”

The holidays are a time people do more shopping in general and it’s a fun time to stroll downtown, she said.

Thad Reiste at Electric City Coffee said they’d been planning later hours for months since “late night coffee shops are a thing.”

Then the survey went out earlier this month “and it all just worked,” he said.

Their chefs developed artisan boards to offer lighter fare, since eating habits are changing, Reiste said, but they’ll also have one main dinner item in the later hours, starting with spaghetti and meatballs on Oct. 25.

Electric City will be staying open till 8 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, other than Halloween night, through at least the end of the year.

“The coffee shop is a social atmosphere,” he said, and they’ve also significantly expanded their wine menu and offer Montana made beers.

“We want people to come downtown, we want to support people downtown,” Reiste said.

In many other cities, “the downtown is where you find the cool places to hang out” and that’s what we’re trying to develop, he said.