For Bonnie Lee and Chris Hrubienski, it didn’t take long to realize the potential on Central Avenue.
The couple moved to Dubuque from Arizona four years ago and quickly grew fond of their new surroundings.
“We felt like (the Central Avenue corridor) was a historic and unique area and were sad there wasn’t much down here,” Lee recalls. “I feel like things have been improving.”
On Tuesday, they were among dozens of area residents who participated in the “Path to Potential” event in downtown Dubuque. The gathering included tours of nearly 20 properties in the Central Avenue corridor, beginning in the 1400 block and extending north to the 2200 block.
Orchestrated by the non- profit Dubuque Main Street, the event featured a combination of new businesses and still-vacant storefronts.
“We wanted them to see the exciting businesses that have already opened and the properties that are still available,” explained Dubuque Main Street Executive Director Dan LoBianco.
In addition to generating long-term interest in empty storefronts, Dubuque Main Street officials hope Tuesday’s event will set the stage for another promotion, dubbed “Central Express.”
LoBianco explained that multiple properties in the corridor will be available for temporary “pop-up shops” during the holiday season. Dubuque Main Street will host weekly, holiday-themed events throughout much of November and December to further pique interest in the corridor.
That concept hit home for Lee and Hrubienski, who are interested in opening a shop that would sell jewelry, pottery and a variety of other items. Launching a temporary shop could help them test the waters.
“It’s definitely something we’re interested in,” said Lee.
Chris Richard has owned properties along Central Avenue for a dozen years. In that time, he’s observed significant progress.
“There is a lot more activity down here now,” he said. “It is nice to see.”
A trio of business developments in Richard’s buildings demonstrate the area’s growth.
Retro Cakes and Cupcravery now operates at 1736 Central Ave., while the studio Stoned Art operates one block to the north. A coffee shop will soon open its doors at 1798 Central Ave.
Richard is actively marketing another available property at 1812 Central Ave. and said he’s open to “anything that benefits the neighborhood.”
Tim Hitzler also was among the local property owners who participated in the Path to Potential.
He is soon planning to open Central Avenue Mercantile at 1902 Central Ave. The new offering will feature handmade wares from more than a dozen local vendors.
Above that retail space, Hitzler has renovated three apartments.
“That’s the other side of the coin people don’t think about,” he said. “It is important to fill the storefronts, but also to have more people living in the area.”
Local artist Laura Buechele is looking for a space where she can sell antiques, art and vintage clothing.
On Tuesday, she looked at multiple available properties in the Central Avenue corridor.
“I really liked some of the spaces,” she said. “They have a lot of interesting, old architectural elements.”
Morgan Schmitt and Bailey Avenarius also spent part of their Tuesday afternoon perusing Central Avenue. The Dubuque residents hope to open an upscale boutique for women and children by the end of the year.
“We’re looking at multiple options in the downtown, but we heard about this event and definitely wanted to scope it out,” Schmitt said.
Despite recent improvements on Central Avenue, Schmitt noted that negative perceptions about the area still linger. She believes bringing more people to the area can alter that narrative.
“The more events they have down here and the more often people come down here and shop, I think that will start to change,” she said.