Originally created 01/16/04

Rio Bomba moves out of downtown



When Carolyn Rodriguez opened Rio Bomba on the Eighth Street Plaza, she hoped to capitalize on the many Riverwalk events.

Just 15 months later, she has given up and is trading her downtown digs for a place on Peach Orchard Road.

"The only reason people come to the Riverwalk is if something is going on, and now there's nothing going on," she said.

But things are going on downtown and businesses are blooming - at least, on Broad Street.

Over the past year, downtown developers have focused much of their marketing and advertising efforts on Broad Street in hopes that the growth of Broad would spur the rest of the downtown area.

"For years, the Riverwalk area was promoted, and now Broad Street is being promoted," said Chris Naylor, the executive director of the Downtown Development Authority and Main Street Augusta.

Events such as First Friday and the Farmers Market have spotlighted the newly developed Augusta Common and have brought large crowds to many Broad Street restaurants.

As activity focuses on downtown's main street, off-Broad restaurants are feeling the sting from less visibility. Rio Bomba's neighbor on the Eighth Street Plaza, The Big Easy Cafe, also has closed its downtown operation. The New Orleans-style eatery had a successful operation in Aiken before moving to Augusta, where it lasted only five months.

"Generally, people aren't going to walk an extra block if they don't have to," said Jim Schroeder, manager of the Cotton Patch, another Eighth Street restaurant.

Mr. Schroeder said the Cotton Patch relies on repeat customers to stay in business because pedestrians trolling downtown don't stumble across his front door like they do restaurants on Broad.

The Boll Weevil, on Ninth Street, which has been in business for 14 years, built a reputation for itself before the revitalization of downtown began and relies on that reputation for its business, said Steven Greene, the restaurant's manager.

Mr. Greene said being on Broad Street would be nice because his restaurant would be more visible, but he can't complain about his location across the street from the Country Inn Suites and Radisson Riverfront Hotel Augusta.

It isn't just restaurants along the riverfront that suffer from not having an easily accessible store front.

Nickie Shuler, the manager of Cafe 209, on 10th Street, said she gets only 10 to 15 walk-ins per week; the rest are regulars.

The foot traffic on Broad Street drives many of the businesses there, but off-Broad restaurants don't have that luxury, and city restrictions on the placement of signs make it increasingly difficult for businesses on side streets to get the attention of passers-by.

And although events such as the Border Bash draw huge crowds downtown, street closings and parking issues designed for pedestrian safety make it difficult for restaurants on the Riverwalk to operate.

"When they close Reynolds Street, nobody can get into our business," Mr. Schroeder said.

Reach James Gallagher at (706) 823-3227 or james.gallagher@augustachronicle.com.