Merchants work to revitalize downtown

KINGMAN ­ Anna Banana's proprietor, Hilea Hutchinson, takes great care in her store's appearance and she isn't alone. A growing trend is emerging among historic downtown retailers who seek to transform their collection of quaint storefronts into a thriving tourist destination.

In close proximity to Las Vegas, California and a myriad of national treasures, tourist revenue has always been a critical corner of Kingman's economy. Hutchinson reported that the annual influx of "snowbirds" between the months of October and February accounts for roughly 50 percent of sales in her "knick-knacks" and collectibles store. While pleased with the success she has enjoyed, she and many other retailers believe more can be done to revitalize the old city's quaint avenues.

"Downtown had fallen into disrepair," she said. "The thrust right now is really trying to bring it up. Everybody is really focused on trying to improve this area."

"It's a win-win situation," added her husband and business partner, Larry Hutchinson. "The retailers win and the city wins in tax revenue."

Spearheading the initiative to polish historic downtown's appearance is the Downtown Merchants Association. Its president, 65-year-old Willis Lyens, owner of The Clock Man on Beale Street, plays host to a meeting the first Wednesday of every month to discuss strategies cooperatively with his business neighbors.

A possible obstacle to the DMA's objectives is a lack of participation, he said. Only about half of the more than 50 registered downtown merchants attended Wednesday's meeting. Lyens appears optimistic, though.

"There's a lot of energy going into the meeting, and, hopefully, we'll get it spruced up," he said, adding: "Unity is what we really need."

City Manager Paul Beecher sat in on Wednesday's meeting and said he was impressed with the level of enthusiasm among those in attendance. He said he envisions a brainstorming partnership in the future between the city, merchants and property owners.

"I think it's the right time to do it," he said. "The community is now being discovered and part of that discovery will include downtown. As people continue to discover it, more merchants and retailers will seek the downtown area and realize it's a good place to do business."

As a precursor to more lasting infrastructure changes, Beecher suggested historic downtown start small with simple improvements. The relatively low-cost addition of benches, trash containers and fresh paint would liven the district's exterior while funding is acquired for additional projects like street-scaping, he said. "There is no money tree out there, but we can do a lot of things," he said. "I think it's just a matter of getting everyone involved and making a personal commitment to changes."

Those interested in participating in planning the future of historic downtown Kingman are invited to an open meeting of the Downtown Merchant's Association at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Kettelhuts, 308 E. Beale St.