MARIETTA - When one downtown Marietta business closed its doors at the end of December and another announced it would soon follow, it apparently wasn't a sign of distress downtown but an aberration.
Turquoise Spirit at 128 Front St. was the sixth downtown business to close in 2012, and Sugden Book Store is currently selling off its inventory in preparation to shut down.
But 2012 also saw at least 17 businesses move into the downtown area, and property owners say there's interest in some other vacancies, particularly as oil and natural gas mining activity picks up.
"I feel this spring is going to be a spring of growth," said Dr. Roger Anderson, who owns a number of downtown properties.
Marietta Ambulance moved onto the third floor of Putnam Commons in the 100 block of Putnam Street, and Pierce Training Systems set up shop on the third floor of the Union Station building in the 200 block.
Both facilities are owned by Anderson, who said Thrive Catering also opened at another of his buildings, 101 Putnam St.
Anderson said he just signed a lease with an oil and gas company for office space in Putnam Commons this week, and he's optimistic about the storefront in the 200 block of Front Street that once housed Rags 2 Riches.
"I expect we'll get a tenant there this spring," he said.
When ReStore Marietta and city development director Andy Coleman did an inventory of downtown space a year ago, the vacancy rate was about 18 percent.
"I think that's probably come down a little bit," said Coleman, noting a new inventory has not been performed but he hopes to make it a bi-annual event.
"We like to keep our finger on the pulse of what's going on in the business community," he said, adding that the process can also establish lines of communication between the city and new businesses.
Among those arriving in downtown Marietta last year was Puzzle Piece Quilt Shop at 212 Front St., where Crafter's Paradise was for three years before closing in 2012.
Puzzle Piece owner Carol Hill said the move allowed her the opportunity to grow the business physically and from a customer base perspective.
"If I wanted to increase my traffic, then I had to be somewhere where I was exposed," she said.
Parking and flooding were the two main concerns Hill had about making the move from her Devola location. But being across from the free parking area that used to be the Showboat Becky Thatcher lot alleviated the first concern, and she hopes she won't have to face the latter.
Overall, the move has been a positive business decision, Hill said. And it also provided a new customer to many of her neighbors.
"It actually has been kind of (nice) for me to reacquaint myself with" downtown, she said, noting she did a lot of Christmas shopping in the surrounding stores.
Although she hates to see any business close, Charlotte Keim, president/CEO of the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce, said there is a natural turnover process.
"I have to look at not only what is going out but what is coming in," she said.
In addition to new businesses that opened in 2012, there's still a chance someone will purchase Turquoise Spirit and reopen it, Keim said. And other potential downtown tenants are on the horizon.
"I just had a gentleman in here ... who probably in six months, nine months is looking at opening up a retail store, and he'd like to be downtown," Keim said.
Although Sugden is headed for closure due to the rise in digital book purchases and the struggling economy, Keith Malone, who bought the business in 2009 with his wife, Angela, said he is encouraged by the increased oil and gas activity. He'd like to keep it a retail site, but Malone said interest in the Utica and Marcellus shale plays opens another opportunity.
"That's probably what we're going to be doing with that building," Malone said. "Right now the demand seems to be for office space."
Malone owns multiple downtown buildings and said when Sugden closes it will be the first vacancy among them since Jenna's Salon opened last year at 248 Front St.
"We've been very blessed to have 100 percent occupancy during this downturn in the economy," he said.
Property management and real estate development company Promanco has some downtown vacancies, like the former Front Street Deli site at 174 Front St., but they've been seeing a lot of activity too, said Jocelyn Adelsperger, executive administrator. Two businesses, whose names she could not reveal, rented downtown space on Friday, and the company opened the Hackett Hotel and reopened the Pastime Lanes bowling alley on Second Street in 2012.
"Downtown is filling up again, which is a good thing," Adelsperger said. "We have a lot of people who just really love the history and love the look of the place."
Silverheels Property Management has several longtime downtown tenants and added a new one in 2012 with Bronze Studio, a tanning and nail salon, at 216 Front St. They have only one commercial vacancy, at 119 Greene St., said Brenda Hinton, management agent.