Greenville merchants have already spent years convincing people to get off the internet, get out of their house and into locally owned stores.

But with a growing number of local COVID-19 cases, merchants are modifying that message to let people know local shopping can be done safely.

Uptown Greenville, a private nonprofit dedicated to promoting the city’s central business district, is using the holiday shopping season to launch a plan that will continue to draw people with the message that the area is a great place “to live, work, eat, shop and invest.”

“A lot of the merchants have restricted occupancy and restricted hours, etc.,” said Meredith Hawke, Uptown Greenville’s interim director. “It’s really important for our organization to ensure we are promoting what the merchants want the community to know. It’s changing the messaging to let the community know the merchants are practicing safe measures, following state and local guidelines on top of that they have these great specials and are still in the same location.”

Earlier in the fall Hawke presented an economic implementation plan that Uptown Greenville developed for continued promotion of the area that extends from the Tar River to 10th Street, from Read Street to Pitt Street and along Dickinson Avenue to the 10th Street Connector.

The plan has three goals: establish a foundation for growth within the organization, adjust events and marketing to reflect COVID-19 guidelines and be a leader in initiatives for center city connectivity.

The surge in COVID-19 cases that forced East Carolina University to move to online classes and send the bulk of its students home, along with a scaled-back football season, have meant fewer people are exploring the downtown area, Hawke said.

While no downtown businesses have permanently closed because of COVID-19 financial losses, there were a few that shut down before the pandemic gripped the nation.

To convince people it’s safe to visit, Uptown Greenville’s promotional efforts started Nov. 16 with Restaurant Week, where 15 restaurants and food-based businesses offered specials to customers.

Small Business Saturday, an event created by American Express 10 years ago to promote shopping in locally-owned small businesses, will see downtown businesses hosting sidewalk sales.

“We are encouraging the merchants and retailers to open the doors and bring their merchandise out on the sidewalk. It activates the street and it allows for social distance shopping which is more attractive now than ever,” Hawke said.

“We’re getting out to the community that now is time to shop for the holidays. Especially because we know deliveries will be delayed, why not take advantage of the business centers you have at your backdoor and really bring unique gifts to the table this year,” Hawke said.

About a dozen of the two dozen businesses identified on the Uptown Greenville map are participating in the Small Business Saturday sidewalk event along with offering additional Black Friday and Small Business Saturday specials.

According to a 2018 Small Business Economic Impact Study commissioned by American Express, on average, for every dollar spent at a small business, 67 percent stays in the local community

“Shopping local helps small businesses thrive in the Uptown District,” said Ryan Webb, owner of Farmers and Makers.

American Express is reporting that 62 percent U.S. small businesses say that in order to stay in business consumer spending has to return to pre-COVID levels by the end of 2020.

Details about Uptown Greenville’s Small Business Saturday are available at

Outside of the holiday shopping season, Uptown Greenville plans to hire a consultant early next year to conduct a rebranding study.

“One thing organizations and businesses can do is really look at their brand under a microscope and make sure it’s working,” Hawke said. “Uptown Greenville’s goal is to promote our center city and we need to have a really strong brand to be able to do so.”

With the launch of the Greenville-ENC Alliance Hawke said it was a good time for groups promoting the community outside the city to have consistent messaging, she said.

Contact Ginger Livingston at or 252-329-9570.