Back at the first of this year, when the City Market Parking Garage was demolished to make way for the ongoing restoration of downtown’s Ellis Square, many bars, restaurants and retail establishments adjacent to that massive construction project had cause for some measure of alarm.
Would the extended (albeit temporary) loss of all those sought-after parking spaces —combined with the ancillary traffic snarls and general malaise that can accompany the creation of a gargantuan, forbidding hole in the ground— conspire to put a serious dent in the amount of business these establishments would normally do?
Would the various merchants have to spend sizable amounts of money on additional advertising merely to convince potential customers to brave the increased congestion, rather than head to the Southside, where the malls beckon with ample parking and indoor window shopping?
The result of all this uncertainty was The Shops At Ellis Square Association — a trade group made up of merchants located near that site. Michael Meeks, one of the owners of Express Café and Bakery is the current president of the organization.
He says that when he first approached eight businesses near the intersection of Barnard, Broughton and Congress Streets, he never anticipated that others would want to join as well, but as of today, this group boasts over 45members located between Montgomery Street and Whitaker Street from Broughton Street to Bay Street — an area which includes City Market.
“We want to work together to make locals and tourists alike aware of the unique businesses surrounding the future Ellis Square,” explains Meeks.
One way they’re doing that is through an upcoming holiday-themed event that Meeks and his associates hope will be the first of many more to come.
Billed under the rather unwieldy title of The Shops At Ellis Square/First Chatham Bank/Backus Children’s Hospital Silent Auction, this four-hour long gathering mixes live music and charitable giving with a self-guided walking tour of the area.
Although in years past, other downtown business associations have held holiday-themed evening shopping excursions, this elaborate, one-night-only affair is designed to not only boost the visibility of locally-owned and operated shops and eateries, but to shore up the coffers of the Backus Children’s Hospital — a branch of Memorial Health University Medical Center that has become a favorite recipient of local charitable giving for the help it provides to ailing kids and their families.
According to Meeks, the public will be able to mix their holiday shopping with charitable giving, and wind up with some wonderful gifts (for themselves or their loved ones) in the process.
“We wanted as an association to give back during the holidays, and since this time of year is about children and family, we wanted to do something that would benefit those who were having a hard time enjoying the holidays themselves. We’re looking at this as the beginning of a new annual holiday tradition downtown.
Here’s how the event works: Participating merchants have donated an eclectic list of over $15,000 worth of items and services to be auctioned off during the event.
A silver tea service, numerous pieces of original artwork, weekend getaways, restaurant gift certificates, autographed items from Paula Deen, VIP tickets to the 2007 Savannah Music Festival, a catered dinner party for twenty, a one-of-a-kind South American gemstone sculpture, stuffed animals, a handmade purse, clothing, kitchen accessories, cookbooks and a tricycle are just a sampling of what can be bid upon.
Each business (marked with a blue window sign) will offer complimentary light hors d’ouvres and non-alcoholic beverages, and the public is encouraged to make the rounds, visiting the merchants, and placing their silent bids as they browse.
Near the end of the night, the winning bidders (and one assumes the grand total of donations) will be announced from a bandstand at the intersection of Barnard and Broughton Streets, where acclaimed local group The Equinox Jazz Band will play a free show for the duration.
“We’re hoping the community gets behind this and makes it a great night,” says Meeks. “We would love nothing more than to hand The Backus Children’s Hospital a very large check.” ç
This Silent Auction and Concert takes place 5:30-9:30 pm Friday night in the Ellis Square area downtown, and is co-sponsored by Connect Savannah.