Steve Billet, co-owner of Ironic, is excited to be part of the changing face of downtown York City. The art and vintage shop opened in April at 256 W.
Steve Billet, co-owner of Ironic, is excited to be part of the changing face of downtown York City. The art and vintage shop opened in April at 256 W. Philadelphia St. (John A. Pavoncello)

The signs in downtown windows have changed.

Posters announcing a vacancy are being replaced with the names of new businesses opening in York City.

At Indigo Bleu, it's a date - July 12. The new boutique will open a few Saturdays from now at 39 W. Philadelphia St.

It's the latest among dozens of businesses that have opened downtown during the last few years.

"This is not an accident or coincidence. We've worked to promote the central business district," said Sonia Huntzinger, executive director of Downtown Inc.

So far this year, Downtown Inc. has held ribbon cuttings for 11 businesses.

Last year, the York-based nonprofit had 17.

Business growth is on track to eclipse last year's new openings, given the six businesses that will open this summer.

Opening soon: Brew Vino - a restaurant selling gourmet pizza, salad, craft beer, wine and more - will open July 1 at 251 N. George St. across from Santander Stadium in the space formerly occupied by Le Casa de Tapas.

Indigo Bleu is opening Saturday, July 12, and later this summer three more will open: Baron von Schwein at 35 W. Market St., cellphone provider Boost Mobile at 141 W. Market St. and Clay Path Studio at 34A W. Philadelphia St. Baron von Schwein operates a popular food truck and is setting up a kitchen downtown. Clay Path Studio makes pottery.

Also, owners of The Handsome Cab recently signed a lease to open a wine bar and restaurant at 106 N. George St.

"Downtown is an exciting place to be.


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There's a renaissance happening here, and we want to be part of it," said Robert Godfrey, owner of The Handsome Cab.

Renovations will start in July, and the wine bar is expected to open by early next year.

The owners of Ironic also agree downtown is an exciting place to be.

Steve Billet and David Smith opened their store at 256 W. Philadelphia St. on April 1. Ironic sells the work of 32 local artists, as well as thrift and vintage items.

"It's been extremely successful. Downtown is changing," Billet said.

So successful that the business is expanding two months after opening and creating a sculptor's garden in a neighboring yard that was vacant for years.

"This is a way to take away blight and turn it into something positive," Billet said.

Chasing customers: The downtown perspective has changed for business owners and consumers alike, said Blaze Cambruzzi, chief operating officer at Rock Commercial Real Estate.

"People aren't opening businesses in the city by default. They're chasing the foot traffic," he said.

Doing business in the city is completely different than it was five years ago.

For example, few of the new businesses use a web page. Those that do, rarely update them. Most businesses put their marketing energy where the consumers are - free social media sites.

"Through these marketing channels, they're able to create a brand and following even before they open," Cambruzzi said.

And once they open, they continue to engage consumers and, in turn, grow their businesses, Huntzinger said.

"It's about an overall social experience you don't get at a big box retailer. You might go have a pint at the Holy Hound, where they know your name, and then head over to Sunrise Soap Co., where (owner) Chris (Clarke) knows your name and what kind of soap you like," she said.

More consumers are choosing that experience, and the evidence lies in the expansion of existing businesses. Sweet Melissa's Dream, Kimman's and Nuts About Granola have all expanded during the last year, and owners of Arthur & Daughters, Park Street Pantry and The Watchmaker's Daughter have said business is strong.

White Rose Bar & Grill has also announced expansion plans to accommodate larger groups.

Building momentum: The existing businesses also benefit from each new business that opens, Cambruzzi said.

"Each time a new business opens, there's more marketing and more awareness about downtown businesses," he said.

That cycle has now developed its own momentum, giving downtown an energy as a cool place to be.

"It's the live here, work here, play here movement," said Heather M. Kreiger, director of research and marketing for Rock Commercial. 

The work is far from done. The goal is still 100 percent, first-floor occupancy in the 26-block business district, Huntzinger said.

But 90 percent of the vacancy downtown is in the first block of West Market Street - the skeletal remains of a time when major department stores still operated locations in small cities before moving to suburban shopping centers.

Because of their size, those spaces are hard to fill.

"You can't get a small retailer to fit into a space that a Bon-Ton could fill," Kreiger said.

But finding the right space for a new business is a good problem to have, local leaders said.

- Reach Candy Woodall at cwoodall@yorkdispatch.com.