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.

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Tell a Compelling Story to Raise Awareness and Revenue

Is your nonprofit telling a compelling story?

The mission of Main Street is to enhance the economic prosperity and cultural vitality of historic downtown districts. To succeed, organization’s must be able to demonstrate real change on the ground with visible improvements AND specific metrics of success. To do this, use positive statistics such as jobs added, new businesses open, reduced storefront vacancies, and, an important one for local revenues, increase in property values.

Main Street Lexington has a great story to tell and the media is taking notice, spreading the word that downtown is “alive and thriving”.

“About 18 months ago, we had 14 or 15 [vacancies],” says Stephanie Wilkinson, Executive Director of Main Street Lexington. “Right now, we have about 2 or 4, depending on how you count.”

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Lexington “Get Downtown” 2016 Event

At a recent training in Lexington, the Virginia Main Street program managers discussed The Storytelling Nonprofit: A Practical Guide to Telling Stories That Raise Money and Awareness by Vanessa Chase Lockshin. Telling a story that can point to specifics will raise awareness, boost program credibility, and inspire advocates and funders to take on the role of hero.  However, finding the balance between reporting quantitative statistics and the qualitative community experience can be a challenge.

Lockshin says, “By telling stories, we can connect donors to the emotional experiences associated with the issues our organizations are trying to solve, and emotions are the gateway to deep, meaningful relationships with donors.”

The book is chock full of practical tips for identifying and inspiring your target audience. “Know your audience” is one of the leading tips for a compelling story.

Lockshin helped write a brief storytelling guide for Network for Good.  Check out this resource to get started >>

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.

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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 >>

Pop-Up Altavista 2.0: Cultivating Local Entrepreneurs with an Educational Business Launch Competition

How can Main Street help entrepreneurs achieve a business expansion or start their own business?

The National Main Street Center’s Main Street Story of the Week features Pop-Up Altavista 2.0, Altavista On Track’s (AOT) second business launch competition.  Emelyn Gwynn, Main Street Coordinator for Altavista, highlights the program, which kicked off September, 2016.  Building off of AOT’s inaugural competition in January 2015, this second iteration is designed to lead local entrepreneurs through a nine-week educational program to help them plan for their business’ future.  This time they partnered with Virginia’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and utilized a program called GrowthWheel to create the curriculum.   Pop-Up 2.0 culminates with a “Business Expo Night” event where participants pitch their business ideas to judges for the opportunity to receive funding.  The winning businesses will be determined by the strength of the business plan, sustainability of the business, and the need for the business in the community.

Learn more >>

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Shop Local, Support Local with HuTerra and Virginia Main Street

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Travel Planner Ad, Southern Living, December 2016

There’s no better time to visit Main Street then the holidays. Winter celebrations bring revelers together to enjoy light shows, caroling and special shopping experiences with local merchants. There is a magic to shopping on Main Street that simply doesn’t exist at the mall. We can feel good about our shopping because keeping the cash register ringing at these local stores not only benefits the shop owner but the entire local economy.

This holiday season those benefits are multiplied. From November 15 to December 31, 2016, Virginia Main Street, in partnership with the HuTerra Foundation, will promote both shopping local on Main Street and supporting local nonprofits.  HuTerra is a great supporter of Main Street organizations with a goal to connect small businesses to the community by increasing customer traffic via their mobile app, My HuTerra, available for iOS or Android.

Download the My HuTerra app, pick your favorite nonprofit, and play the “Holidays on Main” game.  When you visit the local merchants at participating Virginia Main Street communities during the holidays, simply “check in” for a chance to win a gift basket or $5000 for your favorite nonprofit.  By shopping locally you can help HuTerra give away $50,000 to nonprofits throughout Virginia!

No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another. – Charles Dickens

 Learn more and download My HuTerra >>

 

Virginia Main Street Regional Rev Up: Advancing Main Street Momentum with Good Data

On November 1, 3, and 4 in Wytheville, Culpeper, and Farmville, the fall edition of the Regional Rev Up promises to load your downtown revitalization kit with the tools you need to develop market-based revitalization strategies.  

The business of Main Street is constantly evolving.  New challenges and opportunities are always presenting themselves. If we know where to look, we can anticipate these changes and adapt to meet the new programmatic needs.  Market awareness as to which businesses are opening and which are closing; the jobs that are being created and the jobs that are going away; buildings undergoing development and those waiting to be redeveloped is essential to understanding who is using your downtown and where the resources are best spent.  It is imperative to know which metrics are important, how to track them and how to interpret and utilize the data.

Three regional trainings will center on how to understand market data for strategic focus and how to identify milestones to communicate forward momentum.  Join the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development and Dr. John Accordino with VCU’s Center for Urban and Regional Analysis (CURA) to:

  • Utilize the refreshed Main Street Approach and Transformation Strategies
  • Learn how to apply market knowledge to revitalization strategy development
  • Identify measurable outcomes that communicate revitalization progress
  • Explore case studies that translate to real world application

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!

Register now >>

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Make Your Downtown an Easy Target for New Business

Why should an entrepreneur choose your downtown for a new location? 

Selling your community to prospective entrepreneurs is challenging without the information they need to make location decisions. Throughout the last few years, Kansas’ Emporia Main Street refined an attractive and easily updateable business investment guide to help make the choice that much easier.  The guide sells the community and gives prospects the confidence to move forward quickly.

Executive Director Casey Woods, Emporia Main Street, says, “The Business Investment Guide has a tremendous impact on our ability to focus business and community development in a strategic, sustainable manner. Since the development of the guide, Emporia Main Street has been able to more effectively partner with a variety of individuals that now know how to invest in our downtown area, and the results of the implementation of the Business Investment Guide are significant. Downtown Emporia has had $48 million dollars in reinvestment in the last seven years (which is fairly significant for rural Kansas) and the Business Investment Guide played a significant role in the redevelopment and recruitment process.”

Emporia Main Street crafted a simple formula for the guide, Inspiration + Information + Presentation = Entrepreneurs and Progress:

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Emporia Main Street, Kansas Business Investment Guide

Inspiration: Communicate current market opportunities with sales leakage and demographic information and support the data with the downtown vision, examples of successful Main Street projects and their economic impacts.

Information: Connect entrepreneurs to your local assets, like the available business incentives; maps showing pedestrian paths and business locations using color-coded maps; a full event calendar and statistics about attendance; facts about the local workforce; and professional resources and social outlets.

Presentation: Craft a sales pitch using clever titles that double as benefit statements and design the final guide to be attractive and inviting, then promote digital copies through social media and print customized versions for that target market entrepreneur.

Emporia Main Street wants your downtown to experience the same success attracting business investment, so they made a business investment guide shell available online, so you can get a jump start on yours.

Thank you, Emporia!