Downtown Lynchburg: Where the Makers Are

The Downtown Lynchburg Association (DLA) knows how to lift up their community. Right now they’re raising awareness of the hardworking entrepreneurs who, with their own hands, are making downtown the destination for local shopping.  Our guest blogger, DLA Executive Director Ashley Kershner, gives us the goods.   

As part of our overall marketing strategy this year, Downtown Lynchburg Association wanted a campaign that would do three things: feature the fabulous businesses that make our downtown unique, position downtown as the local choice for shopping, and most importantly, attract new visitors. With a multi-year downtown construction project looming, we knew that a strong marketing effort would be needed to get our businesses through the holiday season.

The concept of “makers” is a world-wide movement – artisan crafters, handmade goods, chefs sourcing from local ingredients, and makerspaces.  We set out to develop a concept that would align Downtown Lynchburg with the movement, and that would promote it as a place to where quality, originality, and art are valued.

“Where the Makers Are,” is a series of six videos featuring diverse downtown businesses – a skate shop that makes gifts from recycled boards; a pottery shop with handmade items; a bakery that starts baking at 4am; an 85-year old jewelry shop; a specialty chocolatier; and a children’s museum that creates its own exhibits. In each of these videos, we see close-up footage of these makers creating. We hear them talk about why they do what they do, and equally important, why they choose to do it in Downtown Lynchburg.

We have only released two videos thus far, but the response has been overwhelming. The first video alone was viewed over 34,000 times, and we received almost 2,000 video reactions, every single one of them positive. With negativity reigning in social media, this campaign has proven that people are looking for a way to express pride in their community.

With four more videos to go, we look forward to the potential impact this campaign will have on Downtown Lynchburg this year and into the future.

View the “Where the Makers Are campaign here >>>

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VMS Commercial District Affiliate Grants Now Available!

Virginia Main Street has opened the application process for our first ever Commercial District Affiliate Grants! Affiliate Grants are designed to assist organizations and communities in achieving their downtown revitalization goals and be used for projects or planning purposes.

The maximum grant amount is $7,000 and can be used for…

  • non-profit organizational development;
  • vision/mission development;
  • work plan and budget development;
  • market studies;
  • downtown organization website development;
  • design projects;
  • entrepreneur support projects;
  • wayfinding system development;
  • economic vitality projects; or
  • other consultant services that will contribute to the historic downtown and for which other funds are not available.

Affiliate grants are available to registered DHCD Commercial District Affiliates and Virginia Downtowns. DHCD invites projects that hold the potential for positive impact on the downtown neighborhood’s long-term goals.

Applications for Affiliate Grants will be due on December 1, 2017, and the projects associated with the applications should be completed in our CAMS system by June 1, 2018. Our grant manual is available here!

The Destination Express: Enhancing the Visitor Experience with History

The Ashland Main Street Association and its local partners are dedicated to making downtown an amazing destination.  How?  By embracing their transportation history they are improving the visitor experience and creating memorable central gathering spaces. Executive Director Tom Wulf is our guest blogger with the details.    

Earlier in 2017, mural artist Ed Trask and his team finished a masterpiece on the side of the Caboose Wine & Cheese shop in downtown Ashland–a 250 foot long rendering of a locomotive that traveled Ashland’s tracks 50 years ago. The mural honors the late Art McKinney, former owner of the building and great steward of his historic properties, depicted at the train’s helm as the engineer. I captured the entire mural using a video drone.

The mural is one of several exhibits for the proposed Mid-Atlantic Railroad Park. The park will also include the installation of train-related artifacts as public art exhibits along the key corridor into downtown, England Street. This initiative will not only encourage walking tours along England Street, it will also strengthen Ashland’s brand as a railroad town.

The concept aligns with one of Ashland Main Street’s key strategic priorities, extend the Railroad Avenue [Ashland’s “Main Street”] experience to the England Street corridor.  A railroad park will spread the pedestrian-friendly feel of Railroad Avenue throughout the district and increase foot traffic to England Street restaurants and retailers.

The Ashland Main Street Association will host the upcoming Virginia Main Street Regional Rev-Up, Start with “Why”: Creating Purpose-driven Special Events, November 8, 10 AM – 2 PM.  Register today and experience Ashland up close!

Start With “Why”: Creating Purpose-driven Special Events

On October 24, 26 and November 8 in St. Paul, Franklin, and Ashland, the fall edition of the Regional Rev Up workshops will equip your Main Street program with the tools you need to develop events that add up to meaningful change.

When taking on a special event or festival, what guides your allocation of limited financial and human resources?  Is that resource allocation strategic?

Simply put, why does your event exist?  Your goal is an authentic Main Street with a vibrant downtown business environment, and special events can support this mission; however, not all events are created equal.  Given the investment of time, energy, and resources it is essential that you take the time to reflect and evaluate the investment and the event. Why is this the event to impact your Main Street for the better?

Join us for a half-day workshop that will be educational, inspiring, and entertaining! Collaborate with community revitalization leaders, network with peers and explore ideas in the interactive sessions.  Learn:

  • To think strategically about events, before, during and after;
  • How to evaluate events for strategic improvement, deletion or handing off to a partner organization; and
  • Successful event ideas that connect to your organizational priorities or Transformation Strategies.

Registration is free. Lunch will cost $15 and is only payable by cash on site at the event.  Registration for each Rev-Up session closes one week prior to the event, so register now to reserve your spot!

 

Train Day – Ashland Main Street Association

The Heart of the Revitalization Process: Community Engagement

Warrenton has earned more than 25 years of wisdom as a Virginia Main Street Designated Community. In 2017, their Main Street program celebrated a reboot, a new “booster club” and mantra:  Experience Old Town Warrenton.  To get there, the first thing the community leaders did was invite all stakeholders to be proactive participants in the downtown’s future.  The meeting was so well attended that Virginia and National Main Street staff, as well as town employees, were scrambling to accommodate the standing-room-only crowd. This effort launched a wave of community interest that rippled into volunteer commitments and a meaningful program direction.  The future is bright and the board is feeling it!

“The Main Street Approach situates community engagement at the heart of the revitalization process…it always reflects the input, wisdom, and perspective of local leaders, business owners, and residents.” – Main Street America’s Community Engagement for Main Street Transformation Guide

Warrenton used multiple platforms to reach a diverse audience including an online vision survey and a facilitated public meeting – but each community should look for the tools that will be most effective for reaching their stakeholders.  Don’t be afraid to be creative! Main Street America recently rolled out a new resource to strengthen your efforts, Community Engagement for Main Street Transformation.  It provides a practical framework and includes actionable tools to put to use in your own community.  It will help you:

  • Get to know your stakeholders and future partners;
  • Celebrate the different voices in your community;
  • Generate ideas for the best solutions to the greatest challenges; and
  • Celebrate your accomplishments!

Preempt STP Syndrome, the Same Ten People making all the decisions and doing all the work, and visit the  Main Street America’s Resources Center >>

 

Five Things your Economic Vitality Committee can do Today to Support Downtown

In my Virginia Main Street wanderings and conversations with directors I’ve been hearing a common refrain – “What should our Economic Vitality committee be doing?” A thought provoking question that I am sure goes unasked more often than asked. As fate would have it I recently participated in a Hillary Greenberg webinar on supporting small businesses that provided me with a “lightbulb” moment. Sometimes our boards and committees get caught up in thinking big and miss some of the small, every day, right-in-front-of-your-nose kinds of things that could yield big results for the district.

    1. Is your downtown business friendly? The EV committee can review municipal codes, fees, permit processes and timelines – anything that pertains to establishing or growing a business in the Main Street district. Identify anything that would be a detriment to starting a business or fixing a building then work with the municipality on a making the code friendlier to small business.
    2. Help new businesses navigate the permit process. Now that the EV committee has a thorough understanding of all of the local hoops to jump through to open a business downtown, turn that information into a step-by-step guide for new business owners.
    3. Survey retailers and business owners. In person, with a flyer, online – ask the questions. What would help you to improve your business? Have some check boxes –
      • website development?
      • access to capital?
      • cooperative advertising?
      • loan pool?
      • new signage?
    4. Hold Retailer Round Tables. Use those survey responses to generate topics! One month bring in a marketing guru to discuss website content. The next month (or quarter) have the Promotions committee members come to talk about, and get feedback on, upcoming retailing events. Bring in an accountant to give a Quickbooks lesson. Respond to the retailer’s needs to help them grow their businesses.
    5. Create a Mentorship Network. Every district has those retailers and restaurateurs who are knocking it out of the park. Set up a network of successful business owners to work one-on-one with those that are struggling.

 

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but they are ideas that can be quickly assigned and implemented by a motivated EV committee that can make a real difference on the ground.

Does your EV committee do something innovative to improve downtown? We want to hear about it!

Virginia’s Craft Beer Scene is Booming

Governor Terry McAuliffe recently announced that Virginia is now home to 206 licensed breweries, a 468% growth since 2012, when the tasting room bill, SB604, passed the General Assembly. A newly released economic impact study shows that Virginia’s booming beer industry contributes more than $9.34 billion annually to Virginia’s economy.

“In addition to the direct economic impacts of manufacturing, the industry generates increased tourism-related revenues, provides new production and sales opportunities for our agricultural producers, and enhances community revitalization and development efforts in both rural and urban areas of the Commonwealth”, said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Todd Haymore.

This success story is close to home on Virginia’s Main Streets. One of the latest brewery additions is Sugar Hill Brewing Company in St. Paul, opened fall 2016.  The brewery added a much needed restaurant that is now a local favorite, a tourist destination, and a big economic boost to the small town. It complements the economic development strategy as an ecological and commercial hub – connecting downtown to hiking trails, off-road recreation, and summertime tube floats and kayaking on the Clinch River.

A frothy wave is crashing into our Main Street communities; one that is having a favorable impact on local opportunity, character, and spirits.  Check out more Virginia craft brewery offerings here >>