Brighton's downtown area is picking up steam, thanks to a sudden uptick in newly opened businesses.
Nearly a dozen specialty stores, eateries and boutiques have recently opened in the historic downtown district, once the city's bustling core. Officials have been working for years to revitalize the area, which suffered from low occupancy, aging infrastructure and insufficient parking.
Some business owners say those revitalization efforts are beginning to pay off.
"I'd say we're on the cusp of discovery, but not quite there yet," said Richard McCutcheon, owner of A Novel's Story Bookshop and Fine Tea Empourium, 17 N. Main St. "A lot of people have come back and they're surprised to see the turnaround."
The city's urban renewal agency began targeting the area about five years ago, when occupancy rates flatlined at about 50 percent, said Gary Montoya, downtown initiative director for Brighton. A facade improvement program was launched to help property owners cover the costs of sprucing up their downtown buildings, many of which date to the late 1800s.
The program was designed to allow property owners a chance to restore the old brick surfaces and hardwood floors at an affordable rate. The city covered 90 percent of the cost of the project, Montoya said.
"That's really what began to bring in more investment into the district," he said.
Joni Fields, owner of Joonbugz Kid's Boutique, credits the city's program for the downtown renaissance.
Her store, at 121 N. Main St., formerly housed the city's lone adult club, Western Topless Nightclub, before it was renovated and restored to its original appearance.
"It's been amazing," Fields said. "All of our buildings have been improved and that's brought more business here."
Since opening in 2011, Joonbugz has become a linchpin for the downtown area. The upscale consignment store was awarded "2012 Small Business of the Year" by the Brighton Chamber of Commerce and became one of the city's success stories.
"Business is doing really great," Fields said. "I can't complain at all."
Downtown shops also joined together in a marketing campaign to help steer shoppers to other nearby stores and restaurants in the area.
"It's beautiful how often they refer each other to the businesses next door," said Kami Welch, executive director of the Brighton Chamber of Commerce. "It's been fantastic to see that type of support."
Sandy Jenkins, owner of Milagro's Soap Company, 39 N. Main St., moved her shop to downtown Brighton nearly three years ago. She admitted she was "apprehensive" about her chances, but feels things are headed in the right direction.
"People are getting more excited about this area," Jenkins said.