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!

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Practical, Low-cost Ideas to Make Your Downtown A Destination

What can your Main Street program do to make downtown more of a destination for locals and visitors?

Would a punch list of key actions be helpful?  With today’s market, Main Street communities are happily positioned for a resurgence.  As a Main Street advocate, having a plan to ride that wave and make your downtown the best and brightest means nailing down the best strategy and the right activities. This can feel a little like trying to catch paper money in a cash booth.

There is no silver bullet, but there are lots of resources and experts that complement the Main Street Approach. Author Roger Brooks is one of them.  For more than 30 years Roger has helped transform ordinary places into extraordinary destinations. Currently, Roger is promoting a free series of webinars that focus on why downtowns are popular and more important than ever. He showcases low-cost activities that downtown advocates are doing to create vibrant, successful destinations for both locals AND visitors.

The recording of the first of the series is only available until July 28.  You can catch the rest of the series @RogerBrooksInternational.

Discover What’s “Wythein:” Downtown Wytheville’s Vibrant New Website

DiscoverWytheinMain Street program websites come in many shapes and sizes.  The challenge is to create a simple and fresh website that promotes the Main Street organization and local brand while showcasing the unique charm of downtown and all it has to offer.

Downtown Wytheville Inc. recently updated their online presence with a website refresh that provides an informative, enticing and interactive experience for the user.  The site offers useful tools and information to its visitors, such as an easy to navigate, interactive map with a wide variety of filters from dining and shopping, to local community resources.  It appeals to entrepreneurs looking to locate in downtown by delivering a welcoming message, business investment guide and information on incentive programs.  It showcases the Main Street program, its mission, and ways to engage in support of downtown; and with mobile devices accounting for an increasing percentage of web traffic, Downtown Wytheville’s website can attractively acclimate to any screen resolution.

Learn more >>

 

 

Gentlemen of the Road stopover in Bristol

Bristol, TN/VA is a unique place.  “Two States; One State of Mind” is their motto, but navigating two sets of  building regulations, garbage pickups, tax codes and general government type operations can get a bit confusing.

Famous Bristol Sign Across State Street

However, Christina Blevins, executive director of Believe in Bristol, Bristol’s Main Street organization, bridges the gaps everyday in a positive, energetic and infectious manner.

Her coalition’s building skills recently paid off when Mumford & Sons were looking at communities  in which to hold their traveling Gentlemen of the Road music festival.

Already known worldwide for the Rhythm & Roots Reunion and as the Birthplace of Country Music, Bristol had an inate attraction for the band.  However, the ability to coordinate the many moving parts that an all day outdoor festival requires, in addition to the evenings music selections across the street (and consequently across the state line), Bristol cinched the deal.

Already, Bristol is getting tons of press about this event, but the real lesson is to be prepared when opportunity knocks.  Keep building relationships, offer value to all of your partners, understand the needs of your stakeholders, offer assistance without reservation and become indespensible.

Read more about the festival here, here, here, here and hereDiscounted tickets are on sale June 1.

Virginia Tourism is way ahead of the pack…again.

One of Virginia Main Street’s most prized relationships is the one we have with Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC).  We often plan our strategies to complement theirs and they often ask us what’s going on downtown that they can use to better market Virginia.  They believe in Virginia’s historic commercial districts as tourist attractions to the point that they designed a special category of their Passionality quiz called Small Town Hound.

Many of the really exciting innovations at VTC have been ways to get your information out to travellers, whether they be from out of state or just down the street.  The Richmond Times Dispatch published an article touting VTC’s new iPhone app.  The application allows small businesses to directly reach travellers in a number of ways by self posting information about their businesses in a way that the app users can find them while they are travelling.

Features of the Virginia is for Lovers app include:

• a “near me” feature which finds all attractions within a 15-mile radius;

• directions and mapping for every listing;

• direct access to making reservations via phone or website;

• customer reviews of restaurants and lodging properties; and

• pet-friendly attractions listed by locality

The Virginia.org website has many tools to help local businesses and organizations promote their events and products.  You can go here to add your events now or you can contact a VTC representitive here.

Who needs all that negativity?

It turns out you do.  At least if you are trying to gain traction and trust in the online world.

It may seem purely intuitive that bad press or reviews are not good for sales, but this short article from Fortune magazine says otherwise.  This article is geared toward online sales, but the idea can be expanded to include any online presence.

The idea is that a negative comment helps build trust in your site, making it less likely that a potential customer will look for information about your product elsewhere.

“If they leave your site to look for reviews, they most likely won’t come back,” says Larry Freed, CEO of ForeSee Results, which provides customer satisfaction surveys for Web sites

The other item you’ll notice is that negative feedback can help you address problems that your end users may be having.  Rather than deleting the negative comment, make a follow up post that helps correct the problem.  This shows you care and are listening.  Beware, however, of ever coming across as defensive; it can be hard to listen to people criticize your hard work, but in the end knowing exactly what people think about your work or product is important to your future planning.

Sample Comment Page From Zappos.com

Sample Comment Page From Zappos.com

As you can see here, most comments are good; in fact, excellent.  The two “negative comments” are very constructive and describe the fit and fabric.  The positive reviews are more about function.  This leaves the decision up to the consumer as to whether the fabric is what they are looking for or not.

If the comments were almost all negative and the complaints were more along the lines of “This jacket is made from poor material and the sizing is wrong,” then Zappos might discontinue the item and work out a refund deal with dissatisfied customers, hopefully maintaing trust in their brand.  Without the comments, they might not know why they were losing the customers forever.

Turning the economy on its head

Fast Company reports that Facebook is increasing its staff by 50 percent.  The nearly 500-employee increase is substantial in a good economy, and in current recessionary times, it’s a flat out boon.  But why, at a time when ad revenues are down, would an expansion like this make sense

For one, costs of doing business can be lower.  The talent that Facebook is hiring is in abundance on the market.  New hirees will work for less.  There’s a good lesson there; transfer it downtown. While construction costs are lower, properties are bringing less rent, and an empty space eliminates the major opportunity cost of construction, it may just be the time for a property owner to reinvest. 

Of course Facebook is in at an impressively expansive point in consumer adaptation as well, and it wants to expand its services to advertisers to capture the market. There’s something, too, to be said for striking while the iron is hot.  With trendwatchers capturing the steadily growing fashionability of downtown living, shopping, and working, what is your community doing to make the most of that most of your opportunities today?