Church Street businesses make do amid CityPlace limbo

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Six shopping days left -- that's all you have to get something under the tree. And despite the absence of the Town Center mall on Burlington's Church Street, store owners say this season is shaping up to be about the same -- or even better -- than last year.

"People are coming down here going like, 'Ahhhh,'" said Ron Redmond with the Church Street Marketplace. He says these next few days are some of the biggest of the year for businesses. "Having this additional week is going to really help us." Despite that extra week, Redmond says sales are just about equal to last year.

"It's been busy. It almost always is this time of year for us, all of our local customers come out to support us," said Luke Wight, owner of Kiss the Cook.

Shoppers and store owners say the construction zone that may one day be CityPlace Burlington, hasn't impacted their buying or selling this season.

"It has and it hasn't," Redmond said. "I think people still, they're, they want to know where the mall is but at the same time they really love Church Street."

Construction on the mixed-use retail, office and apartment project was supposed to start in August, but now the project is on hold. Materials are on site, but some fear work won't start until mid-next year.

"We hear a little bit from customers that they miss some stores that were in there, but overall the marketplace and downtown as a whole has a lot to offer customers," Wight said.

A small section of the mall is still open for business, but Mary Zeno, a shopper, says the mall isn't what draws people downtown. "Often times, people have been coming down to Church Street for years because Church Street has what they are looking for," she said.

And the mall's demise might actually be giving a boost to local shops on the marketplace.

"I've been redirected into those other boutique shops that I didn't expect to see otherwise, which is kind of nice," said Jeff Seeber, a shopper.

Redmond believes Church Street will be viable for years to come and says providing a comforting, inviting and positive experience is the way to beat the online market. "That's the way that we'll compete as we look ahead for the next 10 to 20 years," he said.

Redmond says right now shoppers can enjoy a marketplace that's 98 percent occupied by merchants. There are currently two storefronts open on Church Street, but Redmond says there are businesses lined up to move in.