Virginia Main Street 2018 Merit Awards – Nominations are Open!

Downtown Intersections is just a few months away! Virginia Main Street staff have been working hard to craft an agenda, secure speakers, develop walking tours and create workshops that will educate, inspire and empower our communities.

Now, we need your help to recognize achievement, innovation and success in our Main Street communities. Nominations are now being accepted for the Virginia Main Street 2018 Merit Awards!

Download the form today, and nominate your best volunteer, your favorite new public space or your most successful retail promotion from July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018. Winners will be recognized at a special awards luncheon at Downtown Intersections on Wednesday, July 18 at Harrisonburg’s new Hotel Madison. You won’t want to miss it!

Complete a nomination and get recognized for your extraordinary achievements>>>

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Webinar – Buy Local First: Driving Customers to Main Street for a Resilient Economy

On March 8, 12 – 1 p.m., Virginia Main Street is offering a free webinar focused on how to promote buying local and practical ways to build a resilient economy in your community.  

Local isn’t just a place on a map. It’s people: your neighbors and their families, their businesses, farms, nonprofits, events, and recreational venues. Local is a community and all of the opportunities we create together and challenges we work to overcome. Local First has a passion for people living and working together in sustainable community.

That’s Local First’s mission, a western Michigan advocacy organization, leader of a fast-growing movement, and the root of this webinar’s message.  By choosing local and independent businesses for your services, shopping, dining, and other needs, you not only enjoy a more distinctive and personal experience, you’re strengthening your local economy.

About the speaker:
Elissa Hillary, President, Local First, Grand Rapids, MI

Elissa Hillary is committed to building sustainable local economies that put people first.  As the President of Local First since 2007, she has brought together nearly 1,000 businesses in West Michigan to collaborate in building a vibrant community that encourages sustainable business and social enterprise development.  As a consultant and speaker, she magnifies that impact in communities around the world. Elissa is a founding Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) Fellow, the 2014 BCorp Measure What Matters Champion, and a BCorp Ambassador.

Register now for this event >>

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 >>>

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

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!

A Tale of Two Community Engagement Events

As an inherently grassroots movement, effective community engagement is an essential component of any successful Main Street program. Without it, organization’s cannot effectively plan their work, recruit volunteers and board members, promote the district, or communicate impact. Main Street must be community driven.

This week I had the opportunity to participate in two very different community engagement events organized by Main Street organizations. One was an informal and ongoing, with a minimal agenda but strong interaction and conversation. The other was a highly planned, one-time “idea pop-up” that was focused on activity, imagination, and a critical mass of feedback from the community at large.

SDDA Monthly Round Table at Farmhouse Kitchen and Wares

Staunton Downtown Development Association has instituted monthly round-table discussions that draw about 25 stakeholders. Held in the evening at local restaurants, it is an opportunity for the board and staff to introduce specific topics to the public, get feedback, generate ideas, and impart information. The format and feel are informal and conversational, with new topics every month.

A small piece of HDR’s Idea Incubator

By contrast, Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance held an interactive idea pop-up event that drew hundreds of enthusiastic participants over a three hour period. There were multiple stations for idea generation, sharing, comment, and creativity. This included an idea incubator, a pin board of urban design, mad-libs for visioning, and a physical chat room where the public could visit with board members to brainstorm together in real time.

I was blown away by both events – the energy, the participants, the enthusiasm, the snacks! Look for both Julie (Staunton) and Andrea (Harrisonburg) to walk us through their planning, their events, the impacts, and the outcomes in future blogs.

If your community wants to up its engagement game contact Virginia Main Street.

Can “Open Late” increase “Shop Local?”

ClosedSignIt’s an old problem and a pervasive one. In Main Street districts nationwide, small business owner’s are reluctant to be open late or on the weekends. As a consequence those who work 9-5 jobs outside of the district are unable to shop local. A recent Wyoming Business Report article takes a look at how Main Street businesses’ hours of operation could be a catalyst for shifting economic progress.

Store hours come up in conversations with Main Street advocates across the state and nationwide.  It’s a discussion topic that often ends with a collective sigh.  It’s a challenge to convince independent business owners to change, let alone an entire consumer group.

Writer Joel Funk highlights solutions from several Wyoming downtown professionals and the National Main Street Center’s Matt Wagner.  Business owners need people downtown to make it worth their while to stay open and, equally true, shoppers need businesses to be open to make it worth their while to come downtown.  A successful shift of store hours is reliant upon a relationship between the owner and consumer, encouraged by the local Main Street program’s market awareness and perseverance.

70% of all consumer spending (both locals and visitors) takes place after 6 p.m.  Tourism specialist Roger Brooks suggests starting the shift by working with businesses to stay open on Friday and Saturday until 7 p.m. the first year, then add additional days as merchant confidence and consumer habits change.

Be that catalyst to shift economic progress.  Start the conversation!