The lunchtime rush at Mainstreet Coffee and Wine Bar came all at once, and the three women behind the counter were moving fast.
They ladled soup, rolled wraps and poured icy drinks as customers streamed in from the humming main street outside, an unusually warm November day shining through the front window.
The coffee shop and wine bar is one of dozens of businesses that make their homes along and around downtown Lakeville's historic Holyoke Avenue. Over the past year, a combination of aging pavement, empty storefronts and growth in other parts of the city has pushed city officials and local business owners to dream up a new look for the downtown corridor — an effort to draw customers and new businesses into downtown.
"We have a small, historic downtown. And I think that is what makes it somewhat unique, especially in a suburban community like Lakeville," said David Olson, the city's community and economic development director. "We want to retain some of that historic element, but obviously we need to keep up with the infrastructure too."
What's been dubbed the Holyoke Avenue Streetscape Project started out as routine road work through downtown, said Public Works Director Chris Petree. After consulting with business owners over the past year, it's expanded into "a complete streetscape project," he said.
Though the project is still in its early stages, preliminary designs include aesthetic changes — planters, bike racks, benches — in addition to sidewalk replacement.
There are also plans for signs in and around downtown that would direct visitors there. There's been a lot of residential development in Lakeville in recent years, and local businesses want to draw those new residents, said Anne Kutzler, director of the Downtown Lakeville Business Association.
"We are fortunate to have a historic Mainstreet," Kutzler said. "And with a concerted effort to work together as a community, we can really enhance the natural charm of downtown Lakeville." She added: "We have some great new businesses downtown."
Two new brewpubs recently filled yearslong vacancies in an old hardware store and a VFW Post, and a grocery store that became a hockey training center will soon reopen as a curling club.
Still, other empty storefronts — such as the old Ben Franklin store that closed its doors earlier this year — remain a blight on the short stretch of road that passes through downtown.
Olson said downtown business turnover isn't unique to Lakeville. He sees the vacant spots as opportunities for more redevelopment.
The downtown business association conducted surveys to get a sense of what business owners want, Kutzler said. In general, she said business owners expressed support for low-cost updates. Business owners will face assessments for the project.
City officials plan to solicit construction bids in April for the entire streetscape project, with a goal of starting construction in July, after the annual Pan-O-Prog summer festival — short for Panorama of Progress.