Velma Garnham was headed to Home Depot on Saturday afternoon when she stepped out of her apartment and heard music blasting from one block over.
She decided to check it out and found herself in the middle of the Tompkins Avenue Merchants Association Summerfest event. Garnham said she intended to stay for only a few minutes, "but I've been here for two hours."
"It's OK though," Garnham said while sipping ginger juice from a nearby juice stand. "This is a nice event."
Garnham and about 50 other local residents enjoyed free drinks while browsing the stores on Tompkins Avenue between Hancock Street and Putnam Avenue. The merchants' association blocked off a portion of Tompkins Avenue, hired a couple of DJs and brought their business to the sidewalk.
Businesses owners with shops on that two-block stretch of Tompkins Avenue say it's difficult to attract customers, because most foot traffic flows up either Marcy Avenue or Throop Avenue.
Shop owners say it's even tougher to get customers in the winter months because most people trek pass the stores on their way to the subway.
"The goal for this event is to keep people aware of the businesses on this particular commercial strip," said Kenneth Mbonu, economic development director for the Bridge Street Development Corp.
Mbonu said too many local residents ignore the stores on the corners of Tompkins and Putnam Avenues and Tompkins Avenue and Hancock Street, a strip of sidewalk that features a unisex barber shop, an internet service provider, a law office, two fashion boutiques, an antique shop and a pair of bodegas.
He said the event Saturday gave businesses owners a chance to step outside the storefront, sell their products and mingle with fellow business owners.
The merchant’s association had a similar event last Saturday, July 30, where local residents packed the street and sidewalk for most of the day.
Tremaine Wright, who owns Common Ground coffeehouse, set up a tent outside and served free samples of frozen green tea. As she poured the thick, light green liquid into cups, Wright said the event “brings attention to the businesses on Tompkins Avenue and shows them that you can get a variety of goods and services here.”
“Plus, a number of new businesses just opened up here over the past year and people haven’t known or seen them,” Wright said.
One of those new businesses is , which opened January 8. The boutique’s owner Nippy Lavern pulled some of her merchandise onto the sidewalk, and the move coaxed a few customers into walking inside the store.
"Last week was a lot busier," Lavern said. "I had my models out here and everything. The whole street was full."
On Saturday, some passersby sat on foldout chairs on Tompkins Avenue and listened to music while others allowed their children to get messy at the painting and drawing station in front of Lavern’s store.
The event lasted into the late afternoon. As it began to wind down, Mbonu said even though fewer people arrived Saturday, he noticed that the event was a success.
“This has been a fun event,” he said. “The kids enjoyed themselves painting. People are going into stores. The businesses are talking, working together, planning events, so that’s good.”