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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“Booster Rockets” For Downtown Revitalization Momentum

After decades of market preference for suburban development, Main Street and downtowns are hot again! Back in the market, they are once again desirable targets for investment, business startups, expansion, the creative economy, housing, and tourism. So, how do we sustain that momentum, take advantage of the attention, and keep the revitalization progress moving forward?  Our fellow downtown advocates @StrongTowns say communities must keep taking it to the next level without hesitation.

“I like to think of the early, “fun” stages of [revitalization] as the booster rockets on the old space shuttles…they’re necessary to get the things that really matter off the ground and into the atmosphere.  After they do their job, it’s all about making sure you blend that momentum with careful, strategic planning and experience to complete the mission.”

The Cork’s Been Popped…What’s Next For Your City? @StrongTowns

Creating a Successful “Entrepreneurial Ecosystem”

In Main Street districts, one of the best ways to fill vacancies, and prevent new ones, is to foster a setting that is attractive to entrepreneurs and where small businesses can thrive.  The buzz word nowadays for that setting is “entrepreneurial ecosystem,” which refers to the elements outside the individual that encourage entrepreneurship and increase the probability of a successful business following a launch.  That ecosystem is what attracts, or repels, a business from locating in an empty storefront.

entrepreneur-ecosystem

Entrepreneurial activity in the U.S. is up 60% and at its highest level since 2005, according to the newest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM U.S. Report) with retirees looking for a second career and younger adults driving the trend.  The market is ripe.

Energizing Entrepreneurs was developed by the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship to provide a roadmap for communities looking to build their own Entrepreneurial Ecosystems. It is a great resource for communities, organizations and individuals who want to learn:

  • Why it’s so important to become an entrepreneurial community;
  • The elements of a support system for entrepreneurs;
  • Assessment tools to develop a local strategy;
  • How to understand and connect to entrepreneurs; and
  • The importance of creating, measuring and sustaining local impact.

Exploring the opportunity is a first step and DHCD’s Building Entrepreneurial Economies program can support the effort!

Learn more >>

Main Street and Wine; a Great Pairing

Virginia’s thriving wine industry is boosting the state’s economy and local Main Street districts alike with a total impact of approximately $1.37 billion annually, according to a newly released economic impact study. This figure is an increase of 82 percent from the last study conducted in 2010.

“…one of our top agriculture goals was to make Virginia the preeminent East Coast destination for wine and winery tourism, and I am pleased our efforts are helping make this a reality,” said Governor McAuliffe. “This new study shows that this growth is being driven by small wineries, which demonstrates that the increased rural economic development is truly beneficial to local communities.”

The report showed that from 2010 and 2015, the number of wineries increased 35 percent, from 193 to 261. The number of full-time equivalent jobs at wineries and vineyards saw a 73 percent increase, from 4,753 to 8,218. Wages from jobs at wineries and vineyards increased 87 percent during the same time period as well, from $156 million, to $291 million.

Tourism to Virginia wineries also showed impressive growth. The number of people visiting wineries grew by 39 percent, from 1.6 million visitors in 2010 to 2.25 million visitors in 2015. At the same time, wine-related tourism expenditures grew dramatically from $131 million to $188 million, a significant 43 percent increase.

Culpeper’s Hoptober Fest 2016

Wine and Virginia’s downtowns make a great pairing.  Culpeper Renaissance Inc. expanded their wildly successful craft beverage festival to twice a year and the downtown features several shops that sell local craft beverages, Culpeper Cheese Company and Vinosity.  In Staunton eonophiles can visit Yelping Dog for a their wine fix, and don’t miss Saturday tastings at Vintages by the Dan in Danville. However it is done, Main Street recognizes the local economic impacts of partnering with regional craft beverage producers.

Check out the full 2015 Economic Impact Study of Wine and Wine Grapes on the Commonwealth of Virginia and don’t forget to visit the Virginia Wine Marketing Office for more information on the industry statewide.

Local Incentives Drive Community Development

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Manassas Ribbon Cutting

One of the most important ways that a municipality can support it’s small business community is through targeted financial incentives. A recent Potomac Local article touted the expansion of the city of Manassas’ business incentive programs, including Façade Improvement Grants and Landscape Improvement Grants. These incentives will assist with the exterior renovations and landscaping of existing commercial or industrial properties.  The new initiatives are designed to encourage business owners to reinvest in properties throughout the City and serve as a redevelopment tool intended to bring new life to older structures.  Each pilot program has been allocated $50,000 and property owners must agree to invest $2 for every $1 the City invests.

Incentives like these are used alone or as part of a package to retain and attract business to a Main Street district or generally catalyze projects.  They are often in the form of a grant or a zero- to low-interest loan to promote improvements and appropriate design.  Seed funding sources can come from Tax Increment Financing (TIF), bank partnerships, Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), municipal/county targeted funds, or private loans and grants.  Incentives can mean the difference between vacant storefronts and a vibrant downtown neighborhood.

Congratulations to Manassas!

Learn more >>

 

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!

 

Innovative Models for Main Street Businesses

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Airstream Beauty Boutique, Harrisonburg, VA

In August of 2016 a local beauty boutique opened in Harrisonburg’s Main Street district in an unusual and fantastic location, a 1975 Airstream Land Yacht.  Airstream Beauty Boutique owner Irina Dovganetskiy needed a small space that would allow her to test the market and grow her business – handmade beauty products using natural and toxic-free ingredients.  She wished to belong to a community of small businesses on Main Street but, without an available downtown storefront, Irina had to dream up a new way of doing business.

Clever entrepreneurs have an opportunity to think outside the box and inside a truck, trailer, or any space with a critical mass of customers and a growing market.  Recently on the Orton Family Foundation’s Cornerstones blog, rural economy expert Becky McCray shared six ways for small businesses to consider doing business in small towns:

  1. Pop-ups – temporary businesses that may last from just one day to several months.
  2. Trucks and trailers – not just for food businesses any longer, service and retail businesses are catching on.
  3. Business-in-a-business – sharing space with several different businesses under one roof.
  4. Tiny business villages – extra-small businesses in tiny buildings located together as a temporary village in an empty lot or green space.
  5. Rural-sourcing – an online marketplace offers business owners to live in rural communities, but reach a global market.
  6. Omni-local – local bricks-and-mortar shops can use e-commerce to take orders online and on-the-go mobile sites, and even monthly subscription boxes.

Could a mobile business set up shop in your downtown district without delays?  What trends can your Main Street program embrace now to nurture a thriving market place?