SunRail riders give Park Avenue merchants a boost

SunRail passengers have provided an economic boost for Winter Park businesses.

SunRail passengers have provided an economic boost for Winter Park businesses.

Tim Freed

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Winter Park merchants along Park Avenue saw sales and foot traffic soar in the first month of SunRail rides, leaving them hoping to see the trend continue.

Business owners reported seeing the biggest jump in the first two weeks of last month, when riders could board the train free of charge. That boost faded in the second half of May when passengers were forced to pay for SunRail passes.

But the uptick in sales continues for businesses such as Peterbrooke Chocolatier, who saw an increase of 5 to 10 percent in sales during the first two weeks and kept a steady at 5 percent boost the rest of May as ridership tapered off, said owner Kevin Wray.

“We’d certainly see a rush every time the train stopped,” Wray said. “They generally seem to be new to the Avenue, so this is a new experience for them.”

“The last two weeks since they’ve been charging have slowed down considerably, but we’re still seeing an influx of new people on the Avenue.”

It was a similar story for Pannullo’s Italian Restaurant, who early on had customers lining up well before opening their doors, said co-owner Michael Schwartz.

“During the several weeks of free ridership, the restaurant was overrun by what I call ‘train-ees,’” Schwartz said. “It was amazing – absolutely off the charts, drastic impact on our business.”

“Now that it’s free, the first couple days were sketchy, but now we’re seeing a nice impact from it.”

You Need Art gallery manager Peggy Wilmot said she still sees the added foot traffic coming through her store – and much more consistently than before SunRail started.

Expanding rides to weekends would help bring even more people to the local shops and restaurants, Wilmot said. It all helps to make up for the slower summer months along Park Avenue.

“Part of the reason it is a lot slower down here in the summer is because a lot of local people leave for the summer,” Wilmot said. “It’s way too hot to walk up and down the Avenue too much.”

“It’ll be interesting to see if some of the people from the DeBary and Sanford area would come down and shop during the summer.”

Cocina 214 owner Lambrine Macejewski projected the steady flow of SunRail riders to continue, thanks to its convenience and the city’s wide variety of shopping and dining choices.

“It’s super nice, it’s easy and you don’t have to deal with parking anywhere,” said Macejewski, who saw a 20 percent jump in profits last month at her restaurant. “I don’t know why people wouldn’t use [SunRail].”

Winter Park’s ability to stand out among the other SunRail stops doesn’t hurt either, said Winter Park Chamber President Patrick Chapin.

“We’re fortunate in Winter Park because we’re a destination,” Chapin said. “We’re absolutely a destination for SunRail.”