Ithaca, N.Y. — A new report shows that more than 60 percent of retailers in downtown Ithaca saw foot traffic and sales decline both during the last holiday season and throughout 2014.

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The survey, “Trends in downtown business sales: 2014,” represents the first attempt to quantify the impact of the over-budget and delayed Ithaca Commons construction project on downtown businesses.

“A majority of survey respondents reported both decreases in sales volume and foot traffic. We infer that much of this decline is attributable to construction related concerns on the part of patrons,” states the report, written by the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, as its number one finding.

(Only 23 percent of downtown retailers saw higher sales revenue and only 10 percent saw greater foot traffic.)

Gary Ferguson, executive director of the DIA, stressed that the data was mixed and that some sectors downtown — particularly the service industry and restaurants — appear not to have suffered during the construction.

Throughout 2014, for instance, 43 percent of Ithaca Commons restaurants saw higher sales than they did the year before. (Only 28 percent reported lower sales; 15 percent said there was no change.)

Similarly, “service” businesses — like an insurance company or bank — saw a small net increase in both sales revenue and foot traffic. (28 percent of these businesses said revenue was up; 42 percent said there was no change; and 13 percent reported declines.)

Ferguson emphasized that the report was not comprehensive. While there are about 150 businesses downtown, only 55 responded to the survey — a fact which could skew its results.

“This is a data point among many,” he said. “It gives us something to talk about, but it’s not necessarily fact.”

Ferguson provided the report to the Ithaca Voice after a reporter found it mentioned in the agenda for the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency’s next meeting.

Overall, it suggests that 2014 was a down year for downtown Ithaca businesses.

Across all respondents, 40 percent of businesses reported that revenue dropped in 2014 and 48 percent reported that foot traffic was down.

By contrast, 29 percent said revenue was up from 2013 and only 18 percent said foot traffic was moving in the right direction.

“What we know is this — the past year saw a decline in sales from a number of businesses,” the report concludes.

“Yet, within this disappointing news is the realization that people were still and hopefully will still come downtown for services and food and beverage. As we move out of construction, this can be a key for future growth for all sectors, including retail.”

Read the full report here:


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.