Community Development | Downtowns | Tourism see more
If you want increased visitation, you must ask yourself this very question. Why would I make a special trip to you if I can do the same type of activity closer to home? What do you have that's different? OR clearly better? Whatever that is, make sure it's front and center in your marketing efforts. It can be as simple as "The Best Cinnamon Rolls in the West," which is exactly what Parowan, Utah did. And it worked.
ED | Downtowns | Tourism see more
We all want to promote EVERYTHING we have to offer. And we all have a desire to make everyone happy. But in a time when we are hit with 5,000 marketing messages a day, you MUST be known for something specific. That ONE THING that sets you apart from everyone else. The more generic and watered down your marketing is, the more your marketing efforts are wasted, falling on deaf ears. Welcome to the age of specialization. Real estate agents now specialize. Doctors. Architects. Insurance brokers. Consultants. Engineers. Associations. Cities and towns now must also specialize. What sets you apart from everyone else?
ArticleTourism and downtown folks never really talk to each other; everyone does their own thing see more
"What do downtowns have to do with tourism?"
I was speaking at a conference and afterwards a woman approached me and asked this very question. I couldn’t pass up an opening like that and instantly started spouting facts and statistics about downtowns. Before I knew it, about fifteen people had gathered around and were jotting down notes as fast as possible.
One gentleman noted that the tourism and downtown folks in his city never really talk to each other; everyone does their own thing. Half a dozen other people echoed the same sentiment. Sound familiar?
After I rattled off a few more facts and figures, a member of the impromptu meeting said, “That’s amazing stuff. Can you come and tell this to our community?”
It is amazing stuff and it made me realize that, although I certainly understand the power of a great downtown, many professionals don’t.
I’m well-known for sound bites, so here are a few facts about downtowns you can share:
1. The heart and soul of every community, besides its people, is its downtown. The health of a community can instantly be portrayed by the vitality of its downtown. It is the litmus test for all your economic development efforts – both tourism and non-tourism. Downtown provides that all-important first impression of the community that answers the questions: “Is this a place I’d want to live? A place my employees would want to live? A place I’d want to hang out? Show off to friends and relatives?” If you want people to visit your community, to open or relocate a business there, or move to your town, downtown needs to be a place they’d enjoy spending time in.
2. The number one activity of visitors throughout the world is shopping, dining and entertainment in a pedestrian friendly setting. It’s typically not the reason we go to a destination, but it is the top diversionary activity of visitors once they’re there.
3. Consider this: The average visitor is active 14 hours a day, yet they only spend four to six hours with the primary activity that brought them there. Then they spend eight to ten hours with diversionary, or secondary activities. Diversionary activities are things they could do closer to home but will do while in town. As an example, Branson, Missouri hosts 7.5 million visitors a year, and the average visitor will see one or two shows a day, totaling approximately four hours. The 49 theaters are what brings them to town (the primary lure), but once there, they spend the rest of their time shopping, dining, at theme parks and attractions, or on recreational pursuits: hiking, biking, boating, fishing, golf, etc.
4. Here’s the amazing statistic: Secondary activities are where 80% of all visitor spending takes place. It’s ok to be a “diversionary” activity. When we’re out fishing or hiking or biking, we are not spending money. When we are competing in a sports game, we are not spending money. But when we’re done, guess what? We’re off looking for the nearest watering hole, great shops, restaurants, and entertainment. Why did Disney build Downtown Disney outside of Disney World? To capture that other 80% of visitor spending. Smart move.
5. Curb appeal can account for 70% of visitor sales at restaurants, golf courses, wineries, retail shops, and lodging facilities. Amazing isn’t it? You could spend millions of marketing dollars to pull people into your community, but none of that will make a visitor walk into a restaurant or retail shop and say, “Here’s my credit card.” The merchant must do that. It’s that old adage of “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Many merchants have no idea how to pull customers in the door by presenting a beautiful, welcoming entry with planters, benches, attractive signage and window displays.
We all travel. Have you ever uttered these words: “That looks like a nice place to eat.” Other than asking a local, or finding where the most local pickup trucks are parked, this is our only other clue to help make a decision.
6. If local residents do not hang out in your downtown, neither will visitors. Visitors are not looking for “best kept secrets” or “solitude” when downtown. They are looking for places where other people go. They want to be in a lively, thriving environment. If downtown has the activities and attractions to draw residents, visitors will want to go there too. The number one reason people travel is to visit friends and relatives. When they visit you, where do you take them? That’s what I thought.
7. Then there’s the 10+10+10 rule or the “Rule of Critical Mass.” After researching 400 towns and downtown districts in the U.S. and Canada, we found the minimum critical mass it takes to make downtown a destination. In just three lineal blocks (not square blocks) you must have a minimum of ten places that serve food: soda fountain, bistro, café, bakery, confectionary, sit-down restaurant, coffee shop, to name a few. The second ten are destination retail shops. These are NOT big box and chain stores, but ten specialty shops. These might include galleries, clothing, outfitters, artisans in action, wine shops, books, antiques (not second hand stores), home accents, gardening and gourmet cooking stores. And the third ten: Places open after 6:00 pm, preferably entertainment.
8. And that brings us to today’s most important and amazing statistic. A full 70% of all consumer spending (locals and visitors alike) takes place after 6:00 pm. Are you open? And you wonder why downtowns are dying while lifestyle retail centers are thriving.
For you in the tourism industry, consider this: people spend the night where there are things to do after 6:00. Not just dining, but also shopping, activities or entertainment. Few people, particularly leisure travelers, want to be holed up in a hotel room twiddling their thumbs watching reruns of Fear Factor.
These few statistics are why more and more Destination Marketing Organizations are now being forced to step out of the comfort zone of focusing all their efforts on marketing, and into the realm of product development. After all, a good product sells itself, and many downtowns need work to become a good product. Tourism and downtown professionals should be joined at the hip. Get cozy.
Do you have artists in your community? Do you highlight their talent? see more
When we meet an artist, particularly an artist in action, we forge a personal connection and it becomes a point of pride to purchase the art and then when you show it, you let friends and family know that you met the artist. Additionally, people feel a bit more obligated when they meet the artist. “She’s so nice, we should buy something.” This works VERY well at public markets, farmers markets, and art shows and markets. It’s true! This is why artists LOVE public markets and art shows!
Quick Thought - Downtowns | Tourism see more
The best way to close the sale - getting people to visit you - is to be helpful. Rather than provide lists, help us by showcasing your “Best Of’s.” The most engagement you’ll get on social media channels, blog articles, and website content is when you promote your Top 3 or Top 5 activities, attractions, etc.
This is exactly how TripAdvisor became the most visited travel site on the planet. If you subscribe to Travel+Leisure, or CondeNast Traveler or any others, every email showcases a “Top 5, 7 or 10” - “Top 10 small town bakeries,” “Top five scenic drives in Nova Scotia,” “Top 3 trout fishing spots in Montana.” Don’t let local politics get in the way of you closing the sale!
BIG reasons your downtown should stay open later see more
While we are moving to the European standard for downtown experiences, including dining and shopping later in the evenings, most downtowns in North America haven’t adapted. More than ever, people want to spend time downtown after work and school, during the evening hours. Locals and visitors want to be able to wind down from their day with later dining, shopping, and entertainment. They want to be in one central, vibrant area where they can find all of these activities within walking distance. They want to be able to live, work and play downtown – without having to get in their cars between activities.
Here are THE downtown trends that create experiences for both locals and visitors:
- Locals and visitors are eating later in the evenings
- Everyone wants a pedestrian-friendly, intimate, safe setting
- Streets kept lively with musicians, artisans, vendors, food trucks and open-air markets
- Plazas have long been a European city fixture – adopting this key city element with programming has become a sure way to have year-round activity and maintain vendors
- Adopting a mix of specialty food and beverage retailers, with merchandise like organic foods, fresh cuts of meat and unique bakery goods, in place of traditional stores
- Entertainment venues: movies, performing arts, pubs, and nightlife
- Options for those moving into or staying downtown: hotels, loft apartments above shops, townhouses, and condominiums
- Narrower streets and wider sidewalks
- Tree-lined streets (planted every 35 feet or 10 meters) that create a beautiful setting, a sense of intimacy, a connection with the environment, and shade during the warmer months.
- Public markets are shifting their hours to stay open during the evening hours
In the past, businesses and malls were closed on Sundays and during the evening hours. Today developers understand the importance of open-air shopping areas that are open for business seven days a week from 10 in the morning until 9 or 10 at night. Destination Resorts can also follow this model with an orchestrated business mix and leases that define consistent daily operating hours. Rural downtowns can also reap the benefits of staying open later hours, with a shift to staying open at least until 8:00pm.
BIG reasons you should stay open later (at least until 9:00pm for urban areas and 8:00pm for rural areas):
- The overwhelming majority of all non-lodging visitor spending takes place in a pedestrian-friendly setting that includes shopping, dining & entertainment.
- 75% of ALL retail sales in the U.S. take place between 4:00pm and midnight.
- 70% of consumer spending in brick & mortar stores takes place after 6:00pm
- Research has found that if you extend your operating duration by just 2 hours, the average retailer works 20% less. Profits will always exceed any increase in expenses.
- Fixed costs remain the same, do not increase based on additional hours open.
- “Shop Local” programs ONLY work if you are open during convenient, later in the day, hours.
- Visitors will stay in town for the night if there are things to do late – after 6:00pm.
- It makes you a desirable place for the Creative Class to live, work, invest and play.
There are a number of strategies that will make the transition to staying open later, easier to accomplish:
- Create a “Shared Employee” program that would hire employees full-time and manage a schedule of a few hours at a number of businesses during one shift, to accommodate special schedule needs of businesses without having to hire too many employees.
- Work with a local temporary hire agency
- Shift your hours. Open later (maybe around 11:00am) to stay open later and not increase operation hours.
- Hire some part-time workers to get the extra help you need.
- Utilize a college or university-based “Retail Ambassador” or internship program. (This is particularly effective for destination resorts.)
Your downtown has the potential to be a major draw during evening hours, if it can modify its business mix, pedestrian setting and hours of operation. Not only will this increase downtown spending, it will improve quality of life, increase overnight stays and become a catalyst for even more community revitalization.
ArticleThink of your favorite destination downtowns. What do they have in common? see more
We call this the 7-8-7 rule because of the three most important statistics that make a downtown a successful and vibrant destination. Think of your favorite destination downtowns. Are they beautiful? Do they feel safe? Are there things to do after 6:00 pm?
1. 70% of first-time sales at restaurants, retail shops, lodging facilities, and attractions can come from curb appeal. Travelers often use these phrases: “That looks like a nice place to eat.” or “That looks like a nice place to stay.” Virtually every person on the planet has said those words at least once, if not dozens of times. You can spend millions of dollars marketing a town or downtown, and none of that will make me—the visitor—walk through your shop’s door. You, the merchant, must do that. Beautification, or curb appeal, will always be an investment with a tremendous return.
2. Women account for 80% of all consumer spending. Yes, it’s true. I use this statistic a lot in speaking engagements, and I always pause to hear the audience reaction, which ranges from “You go girl!” spoken by women, to “That’s all?” from the guys. Women will spend more money in places that look inviting, are clean, and feel safe. If you cater to women you will ultimately win the entire family’s business. Women also account for 70% of all travel decisions including places to stay and eat, and “must see” attractions.
3. 70% of all consumer retail spending takes place after 6:00 pm. Are you open? This is one of the reasons downtowns are dying – they’re not competing with malls’ later hours. In the 60s, stores typically closed at 6:00 pm, 5:00 on Saturdays, and were closed on Sundays. In the 70s malls were open until 8:00 or 9:00 pm, but still closed at 6:00 on Saturdays and were open from noon to 5:00 on Sundays. Fast forward to today, and you’ll find just about every successful mall opening at 10:00 and staying open until 9:00 (or later) seven days a week. Meanwhile, traditional downtowns are stuck in the 1960s, and most are dying.
While we are moving to the European standard of dining and shopping later in the evenings, downtowns haven’t made the change at all.
Let me know what changes you are making in your downtown!
Roger Brooks posted an articleWhy we say your downtown should be open in the evening hours. see more
The quote “70% of all consumer bricks-and-mortar spending now takes place after 6:00 pm” was first studied and reported in Alexander Communication’s “Downtown Reporter” a couple of years ago. It was also confirmed by the National Retail Federation, independent retail chains, and by mall developers including Simon Properties and Westfield. It was reported in Business Week, the Wall Street Journal and other publications as well.
Consider the following:
We are slowly moving to the European standard – we are eating dinner later and later and we are shopping later and later. This is why retailers and malls in the 70s closed at 6:00 pm and were only open 12 – 5pm on Sundays, but now are open until at least 9:00 pm seven days a week.
Every successful retail mall, every lifestyle retail center (now replacing many downtowns) is open from 10:00 am to 9:00 or 10:00 pm seven days a week.
This is why downtowns are dying at an alarming rate.
Downtowns are transforming into evening hour destinations. Dining, entertainment, cultural arts, special events. The days of buying socks and underwear downtown are, for the most part, over.
Why is it that EVERY SINGLE national retailer stays open late into the evening hours? Walmart, Sears, BassPro Shops, Scheels, Fred Meyer (out west), Lowe’s, Home Depot, Staples, Office Max, Best Buy, Safeway, Raley’s, Ace Hardware stores, etc., etc., etc. They do it for ONE big reason: During the day people are at work or are at school. When they are OFF work, downtown is closed. So they head to Walmart or to places that are open.
Visitors, during the day, are in Disney World, or are out fishing, hunting, biking, hiking, playing golf, etc. They spend their money at the end of the day – are you open? So this applies to both visitors and local residents as well.
This phrase is backed up by research. Below is a link to a PDF validating the research. The reason my name, Roger Brooks, is associated with it is that I’ve spent most of my career trying to resurrect dying downtowns. No retail chain, mall developer, lifestyle center developer, outlet mall developer, or Downtown Disney, is going to tell the world about this research. They don’t want downtowns to compete with them. So you close at 6:00, they stay open, and they benefit and downtowns continue to die at an alarming rate. This is happening in so many communities. Go to Europe and see it first hand.
We talked to numerous downtowns who have extended their shopping hours and they are seeing HUGE increases in retail sales as a result.
This is retail – not restaurants. Most restaurants are now open until 10:00 pm. Even they are moving later and later, but this research is based on retail sales, not restaurant or entertainment facilities.
Click here to download the original research article from Alexander Communications where WE got the data.
In a nutshell, we aren’t making these things up, and if you want your downtown to be successful you need to make it a place that people can come and spend time in the evening hours and on weekends.
Downtowns are back and more important than ever. They should be at the top of your priority list. see more
I was the keynote speaker at the North Dakota Main Street conference, one of the largest in the country, with nearly 600 downtown enthusiasts in the audience. After my session I met Governor Doug Burgum, one of the smartest governors in the country.
“Wait a minute,” you might be thinking, “how did you surmise that he’s one of the smartest governors in the country?“
Because Main Street tops his five major initiatives for the state of North Dakota.
Now you might be thinking, “Really? Main Street? A top initiative?”
Let me explain.
For the past couple hundred years in the U.S. and Canada, people have migrated to where the jobs were located, typically in large metropolitan cities, near major transportation corridors, or where natural resources have created job opportunities. But now, for the first time in North American history, quality of life is leading economic development.
That means jobs are going where the talent is, or where the talent wants to be. In fact, cities and towns with a high quality of life are seeing amazing rewards.
The term, “quality of life” is very subjective and overused, and most people think their towns have it. But in reality, there are three primary factors that are key components to great quality of life:
- A vibrant downtown—downtown is a great gathering place
- Great schools and educational opportunities
- Awesome recreational activities and cultural depth
In North Dakota there are more than 30,000 family-wage jobs currently available (thousands paying more than $100,000 a year). But the state has a cloud hanging over it: “Who wants to live in North Dakota?”
It’s actually an amazing and beautiful state. It’s nothing close to the “frozen tundra” image it has for a good portion of the year. If there’s a cloud hanging over you, the solution is to tell a different story, or showcase something so great that it minimizes that dark perception.
In North Dakota, cities and towns need to reimagine and redevelop their downtowns: Programming them so they are full of life, particularly after 6:00 pm, with an orchestrated business mix and cultural depth, in an attractive, pedestrian-friendly, intimate setting. A downtown like this makes those winter months absolutely “worth it.”
Believe me, I know, but from an opposite perspective. You see, I live in the Phoenix area of Arizona, where I often quip that we live in the Valley of the Sun eight months of the year, with fabulous weather, but yes, the other four months we live on the surface of the sun. But “it’s worth it,” because of the lifestyle—or quality of life.
Downtowns are back and more important than ever. They should be at the very top of your priority list. The heart and soul of any community, besides its people, is its downtown. It’s your nucleus. It’s your Third Place: The First Place is your home, the Second Place where you work, and the Third Place where you go to hang out.
For site selectors, commercial real estate agents and investors, your downtown is the litmus test for “livability.” The health of your downtown, economically, represents the health of the community, economically—fair or not.
is on the right path and has his priorities for North Dakota in the right order. Coming from the BurgumGovernor private-sector, and having invested in downtowns, the Governor has seen proof that investing in Main Street actually works!
This is a priority every state, every province, and every community needs to put at the top of their list.
- Roger Brooks
What are you doing to make your downtown the community’s living room? see more
I’ll never forget one of my first conversations with Michelle Lintz, the former (and now retired) Director of the Rapid City, South Dakota Convention & Visitors Bureau. She had contracted with us to develop a tourism development plan, and I wanted to convince her to focus on the downtown core.
We had secret-shopped the city and surrounding area using our popular Destination Assessment program, and during the Assessment Findings & Suggestions Workshop, I referred to downtown Rapid City as the “hole in the middle of the doughnut.”
Within a 30-minute drive from downtown Rapid City are some of America’s best, most iconic attractions:
- Mt. Rushmore National Monument
- Sturgis, home to the largest motorcycle rally in the world
- Crazy Horse Memorial
- The historic Western town of Deadwood
- The Black Hills, legendary for its gold
- Badlands National Park
- Spearfish Canyon, where Kevin Costner filmed parts of the movie Dances With Wolves
And that’s just the short-list. Rapid City hosts more than four million visitors a year and also owns ”The Great American Road Trip” brand.
What we learned was that visitors would typically spend the night in Rapid City, get up early, and head out to these attractions. When they returned in the evening, downtown was mostly closed, so visitors headed back to their hotels or on to their next road trip destination.
As I was talking to Michelle, I gave her three statistics that helped chart a new course from the “tourism plan” to a “downtown plan.”
- The number one activity of visitors, in the world – not the reason they come, but the top activity once they arrive – is shopping, dining and entertainment in a pedestrian-friendly setting. In fact, this is where eighty percent of non-lodging visitor spending takes place. Why do you think Disney built Downtown Disney outside each of its parks?
- Seventy-percent of all retail (bricks-and-mortar) spending takes place after 6:00 pm. With tourism, people want to spend the night where there’s life and activity after they return from a day recreating in the area. Additionally, conventions, conferences and trade shows gravitate to places where there are things to do at the end of the day. Is it any wonder that the San Antonio Riverwalk, Orlando, Las Vegas, and large metropolitan areas garner the lion’s share of conventions?
- If locals aren’t hanging out in your downtown, neither will visitors. They go where you go.
Downtown Rapid City is home to the Alex Johnson Hotel, which, at that time, was operating only seasonally with many of the floors permanently closed. The heart of downtown had more than a dozen retail vacancies and a high rate of turnover. Downtown was NOT the place to go hang out, but was generally the place to avoid.
It didn’t take much convincing, and Michelle gave the green light to focus on downtown.
At the top of the recommendations list was the conversion of a 65-space (one-acre) parking lot in the center of downtown to a year-round public plaza to be programmed with at least 250 days of activity each year.
Communities have been built around central plazas or piazzas for centuries throughout Europe. We’re finally getting the message in North America.
In fact, the top two revitalization strategies in North America include the development and programming of public assembly spaces, or plazas, with a key emphasis on “programmed,” and/or year-round public markets – both with a focus on “after work and weekends” programming.
The bottom line: Where people spend time, consistently, retailers will follow. Think back a couple of generations: When people moved to the suburbs, the retail went with them in the form of suburban malls. And downtowns began a generation of declining vibrancy and increasing vacancies.
A third of all suburban malls are now on the “endangered list” as people are gravitating back to downtowns – not for the downtown shopping of yesteryear, but as the community’s central gathering place.
Thus, Main Street Square, in the heart of downtown Rapid City, became a reality. Young families began returning to Rapid City. Downtown became THE place to spend time. In fact, Summer Nights, every Thursday during the summer months, sees nearly 13,000 people downtown. Main Street Square’s ice rink operates 90 days a year, and the splash pad another 120 days. When you add the concerts and entertainment, vendors, Movies on the Square every Monday night (average attendance of 3,500), all this action and entertainment adds up to at least 250 days of “activity” downtown.
The Alex Johnson Hotel, just a block away, is now fully open and was just rated by Conde Nast Traveler as South Dakota’s best hotel, and it’s a fabulous up-scale place to stay. Conferences and convention sales are at an all-time high. And downtown Rapid City is now a “must visit” attraction, joining the list of other major attractions that make Western South Dakota one of America’s premier and most sought-after destinations.
Also check out Sundance Square in Fort Worth, Texas. Indian Creek Plaza in Caldwell, Idaho. Sir Winston Churchill Square in Edmonton, Alberta. And downtown plazas are soon coming to Topeka, Kansas, and Michigan City, Indiana. This is the future for the best cities and towns – big and small – in North America.
How about your downtown? If you can create activity that will attract your locals downtown at least 250 days a year, retailers will be back – and they will be open the hours the people are there.
Make your downtown the community’s living room – the place your residents want to spend their leisure time, gathering with friends and family, having fun, eating, being active and entertained – and you are bringing your downtown to life. Merchants will open new shops and restaurants because the people are there. This is “Place Making,” and it is the lifeblood that makes YOU the destination of choice, as a place to live, invest in, and visit.
- Roger Brooks
Downtown beautification is a VERY important piece of the puzzle to a successful downtown. However... see more
Recently our team was secret-shopping the town of Vernal in Northeastern Utah, using our popular Destination Assessment program. Vernal is near the incredible Wall of Bones National Monument in the heart of Utah’s dinosaur country. As we approached downtown, we saw that Main Street was lined with large aggregate planters every ten feet, overflowing with bright, colorful petunias. Plus, there were hanging baskets all along the street, also overflowing with the gorgeous blooms. It was such a spectacular sight that many locals drive up and down Main Street just to enjoy the flowers. Of course, we did too.
As we drove down Main Street, we saw that behind all those gorgeous planters, the retail spaces were mostly vacant. In fact, we saw very few people walking along the sidewalks. There were one or two great shops and eateries that looked attractive, but for the most part, downtown was empty. The city had done their best to make downtown beautiful, but the property owners have done little or nothing to capitalize on the city’s investment.
Consider Carnegie Hall. It is one of the most beautiful and renowned concert halls in North America, with ornate frescoes adorning the walls and ceiling, magnificent chandeliers, gorgeous draperies, stunning sets, and velvet covered seats. Magnificent.
But here’s the million-dollar question: No matter how beautiful Carnegie Hall is, would you go there if there were nothing happening on the stage? And if you would be willing to go once, just to see it, would you want to come back again with no performance to see?
Many cities spend millions, even tens of millions of dollars, to make their downtowns beautiful, and then find that even though their efforts resulted in a beautiful space, downtown is still dead—void of activity and commerce.
It’s what’s IN the buildings that The job was only half done. A downtown needs the right business mix. If you don’t “orchestrate” the business mix, working with your property owners and downtown businesses to draw customers makes your downtown an attraction—the rest is window dressing. in their doors, then your beautiful streetscapes are a waste of money. They won’t increase property values, retail sales and services, or make downtown the place people want to spend time—and money. It’s lipstick on a pig, and that’s not how you revitalize a downtown.
Here are the three primary steps to turning your downtown into a thriving destination for locals and visitors alike:
- Decide what you want the focus of downtown to . If you want it to be about kids and family, then where do you place the carousel? What about interactive water features? A splash pad? Plus the supporting retail shops and eateries that cater to families. If, on the other hand, you want downtown’s focus to be about nightlife and entertainment, where are the micro-brews, the eateries with live music, the performing arts venues, street music and vendors?be
- Next up, what will it look like? Now that you know what the focus of downtown is, it’s important to make it look like that. This is your programming and streetscape plan.
- Finally, you MUST work with your property owners and businesses to make sure you have the business mix that will solidify your “brand”—your downtown focus. What do you need to include downtown that will make you THE destination for your particular audience? This is the business mix that will cater to the primary audience you’re attracting downtown, for example, toy stores and children’s clothing shops for a family focus.
The bottom line is that a streetscape, by itself, is not enough to revitalize a downtown. Don’t get me wrong, though, downtown beautification is VERY important as one piece of the puzzle to a successful downtown. You won’t find a bigger proponent for beautification than me!
BUT beatification, by itself, will not succeed in revitalizing a downtown. The buildings need to be full of a great business mix. But if you love dinosaurs and want to see and touch dinosaur bones as they were discovered in the ground, Vernal should be on the very top of your list—it’s an amazing destination. While there, be sure to enjoy Main Street in all its flowering glory—and hopefully, the property owners will finish the other half of the job: orchestrating and recruiting a successful business mix.
- Roger Brooks
Create a vibrant, exciting downtown that attracts the locals and brings in visitors. see more
The heart of a community is downtown, but what do you do if your downtown looks as if it ought to have tumbleweeds rolling down the street, rather than a steady stream of people? It can seem overwhelming at first, but the truth is, injecting life into your downtown can be broken into some simple steps, each of which will lead you towards creating that vibrant, exciting downtown that attracts the locals and brings in visitors.
Here are 3 “first steps” to bringing your downtown back to life:
- Start by developing a plaza area, a central gathering place. Then use it – program it with activities, events and vendors. Make sure there is something to do. This will start bringing people downtown.
- Add a permanent, year-round public market – and make sure it is open during evening hours. Farmers markets are HUGE right now, with growing demand for local and organic food, and a market can provide opportunities for more than just selling produce. Entertainment, gifts, and events will help round out the dynamic experience of a great market.
- Start recruiting restaurants. Food is the number one draw to downtowns, after activities and events. Get people coming downtown, and add in some great restaurants, and more people will follow.
How do you deal with the fact that people aren’t downtown now? It is a bit of a cliché, but its truth holds – if you build it, they will come. Banks don’t like this philosophy, but it’s true. We’ve seen it everywhere we go. If you give people a reason to go downtown, they will look for places they can spend time and money.
Focus on after work hours and weekends to start. It is critical that there be things to do when people are out and about, enjoying their leisure time. Once people are downtown, they will start looking for places to eat, play and spend time. The retail will follow. Great businesses to start with include:
- A couple of coffee shops
- A small bookstore that also sells magazines, floral arrangements, and some gifts. It should have seating areas and should sell coffee, tea or drinks and small food items.
- A deli (for the lunchtime crowd)
- A baker or butcher – these are very popular and are coming back to downtowns
- A stationary store
- Then a couple sit-down restaurants that serve inexpensive meals that will attract people downtown for all three meals. We’re not necessarily talking fine dining, but a great gathering place.
- Invite food trucks and similar vendors downtown to get it all started.
If your downtown is faltering (and so many of them are) it can seem like a daunting task to get things turned around. But we’ve seen it time and time again – if you give people a reason to come, they do. People are looking for great places to hang out and feel connected to their community. Activities and events in a central gathering place, a permanent market and some great places to eat are a great way to get started. They’ll attract people to your downtown and get the ball rolling – and once it starts, you’ll be surprised at how much momentum will build and how quickly that ball will fly.
Too many downtowns have their own junk drawer see more
I have a friend whose son is on the cusp of adulthood. He’s at that wonderful stage when he thinks he knows it all, but only because he hasn’t yet learned how much he doesn’t really know.
Trying to impart some wisdom, my friend was trying to explain to his son what he should expect when he leaves the nest in a few months and heads out on his own for the first time. He told him that like it or not, his friends and acquaintances would be judging him every time they visited his apartment. His son said that was just fine, as he had everything he would need. When it came to outfitting his kitchen, he figured that he could make do with a couple of thrift store plates, a toaster, a microwave, a glass or two and some silverware he purloined from Denny’s. Anything else he would just toss in a junk drawer when anyone visited, hidden from view by his friends and any romantic interest.
Yes, the junk drawer. A hoarder’s dream. A place where all the flotsam and jetsam ends up, from old receipts and dried tubes of Super Glue to that crab cracker you were so sure you’d use all the time. Add in the random bread clips (they were invented in Washington State, by the way), and that spare bulb you kept for a strand of holiday lights you don’t even have anymore, and you have your classic junk drawer
Too many downtowns have their own junk drawer. They hold onto the past. They retain regulations, codes and zoning that fit downtowns of the 19th and 20th century rather than the 21st century. They believe that tourists will continue to come even though the festivals, shops and inventory are the same every year and parking is a nightmare. Even residents are avoiding downtown as it never seems to change.
Well, it’s time to get rid of the downtown junk drawer. My friend’s son may be able to hide things away from the prying eyes of visitors but you can’t hide a downtown’s flotsam and jetsam. Whether you are a traveler, tourist, visitor, business suitor, or a lone-eagle looking for a place to roost, you will judge a community by its junk drawer. It provides the first hint about the true character and quality of the people and business of any town.
The following are my top 10 items that belong in a downtown’s junk drawer so that the community can move forward and build economic vitality and sustainability.
Entryway clutter: In many towns, there’s a big sign that says “Welcome to…” dotted with signs for the local Rotary, Chamber, maybe a church or two, but beyond that, not a single sign directing them to attractions or downtown retail. Don’t let smartphones map people to the advertisers in your town. Control your own messaging and wayfinding. Direct visitors easily and quickly to your downtown with clear, attractive signage that isn’t blocked by overgrown hedges or worse, bigger signs.
Stroads: Stroads sound like a people-eating reptile from South America but in fact, they are street/ road hybrids that are unsafe, ugly and bad for the local economy. Chuck Marohn, a recovering traffic engineer and founder of the non-profit, Strong Towns, coined the term. Downtown visitors and locals don’t want to dodge traffic or try to talk louder than the cars zipping by. Stroads are the antithesis of a friendly, welcoming downtown and should be marked for extinction.
Chain restaurants: Chain restaurants are no longer attracting customers like they use to. In fact, a recent study indicated that traffic at chain restaurants is down by over four percent over the last year. Tastes are changing and you need to change with them. More people are watching food channels and discovering restaurants in small communities that are unique and close by. Rating services and social media are adding fuel to the fire and people increasingly are looking for locally sourced, local specialties or farm to table.
Absentee landlords: Most absentee downtown landlords do not have a vested interest in the community. Blighted buildings and long-term vacant properties plague downtown development and scare off tourists and locals. In many instances, communities can’t find the landlords because their residential addresses are not filed with the city or state. Downtowns need to accept the broken window theory. If one window is broken a second window will be broken soon. If the garbage isn’t picked up out front, more garbage will join it. The biggest mistake that downtowns can make is to believe there is nothing that can be done. More city councils are considering regulations that lay out a series of penalties for owners that abandon their properties.
Vacant downtown storefronts: Retailers are closing stores at a record pace. According to the International Council of Shopping Centers, closings in the first quarter of last year were equal to all store closings from the previous year. Many downtowns continue to place roadblocks in the way of new shop owners, whether it’s outdated zoning regulations, sidewalks in disrepair or territorial business associations. Pop-up stores, co-working shops, and maker spaces are just a few of the short-term answers to take down the for lease signs and grow new businesses.
Parking rules: Shopping and dining is the number one activity of visitors across the country. It is also the one activity that generates the most amount of revenue for the community. So why do communities discourage visitor by restricting the amount of time they can park? Unless communities have established a substantial quota for parking tickets, they will never collect enough money to make up for the loss of sales and taxes visitors bring in. All they will end up with are visitors who shy away from your downtown because it’s too hard to find ample parking with sufficient time to shop.
Early last calls: Retail planners use a four-times rule to determine a town’s major market area. The four-times rule states that for every hour of drive time to your community, visitors want four hours of things to do. Seventy percent of all consumer retail spending takes place after 6 p.m. It’s hard to keep the money flowing in if you roll up the sidewalks at 5 p.m. That may work for senior citizens like me, but once I leave, there is plenty of money to be made by the next generation.
Uninviting impressions. Appearances are everything. You can have the best restaurants and shops in your downtown but if it has no curb appeal, visitors may just drive right by. A fresh coat of paint, nicely kept planters, well-maintained signage and attractively merchandised store windows can greatly improve curb appeal without requiring a major investment. We all make judgments based on appearances because it’s the only guide we have.
Limited business mix. There are two types of retail stores downtown. There are the neighborhood stores that cater to the locals such as professional services, hardware stores, pharmacies, appliance stores, etc. Then there are retail outlets targeted to visitors. Neighborhood stores may bring in the locals occasionally but they do nothing to attract outside dollars from coming into your economy. Determine a mix that works best for all parties.
Rules and Regulations: All businesses have to obtain permits and licenses to operate. A downtown small business, especially food establishments, often has many rules and regulations they need to follow. While it’s important to protect public safety and health, too many regulations – or worse, conflicting regulations – can be a death sentence for a business and a downtown. Cities should regularly review all their business statutes, licensing and regulations to make sure they are still pertinent, don’t create conflicts and most important, are business friendly.
We all have our junk drawers and it’s a good idea to go through them now and then. Throw away the unnecessary or unneeded, fix what’s broken and straighten everything up so it’s nice and tidy. Just be sure to keep the crab cracker. You never know when you’re going to need it again.
What’s in your junk drawer?
Maury Forman was the Senior Manager for the Washington State Department of Commerce until his retirement in 2016. His focus was on creating healthy communities and developing a culture of entrepreneurship in rural areas. He was the founder and director of the award-winning Northwest Economic Development course at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington where over 2,000 practitioners graduated. He became the first recipient of the Finkle Leadership award from the International Economic Development Council in Washington DC for his “integrity, tenacity, and philanthropic spirit in the profession.” In addition to his many publications in the field of economic development, he also was the founder of three startup businesses.
Roger Brooks posted an articleDisney are the masters of branding and product development – and with good reason. see more
In a lot of my speaking engagements, I use examples from Disney to illustrate points about branding and product development – and with good reason. Disney simply knows how to get it done. They are kings of branding, their marketing is spot on, and when it comes to product development, they have proven time and time again that they have their finger directly on the pulse of what visitors want.
Never content to rest on their laurels, Disney is at it again, making dramatic changes to their Downtown Disney complex in Walt Disney World, Florida. Already an economic powerhouse, Downtown Disney is capitalizing on the fact that the number one activity of visitors is shopping, dining and entertainment in a pedestrian-friendly setting. In fact, this is where 80% of all non-lodging visitor spending takes place. Even with all the other mega-attractions of Disney World, Downtown Disney has been an economic hit for the company. And it is about to get even better.
The shopping and dining complex will be renamed “Disney Springs,” and will be designed to evoke a sense of life in the early 1900s. According to Tom Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Park and Resorts, the project will include about 150 world-class stores and restaurants.
Disney Springs will be divided into four neighborhoods: The Landing, Town Center, WestSide and The Marketplace. As I’ve always said, name your downtown districts. It makes them destinations, not just geographic designations.
The inspiration for Disney Springs comes from the look and feel of small Florida towns at the turn of the past century. Walt Disney’s parents met and married in the town of Kismet, in Central Florida, in 1888. Staggs said, “In our story, Disney Springs grew up around a series of natural springs here in Florida. It became a thriving community,” and added it will be a place where guests “feel instantly at home.”
Notice he said, “In our story…” Disney didn’t just throw together a redevelopment plan around the layout of the buildings or the names of the restaurants. They started with a story. One thing Disney is especially adept at is creating an all-encompassing ambiance. They transport you to another world. They are experts at making their attractions and amenities part of an overall experience, and their changes to Downtown Disney will be no exception. They understand well how to make an exceptional “downtown,” and Disney Springs will take their already successful Downtown Disney concept and make it even better.
Downtowns take note: Disney sets the standard for ALL downtowns. Few of us can spend hundreds of millions of dollars to redevelop our downtowns, but we can learn from Disney’s successes. Disney clearly realizes the value of a pedestrian shopping and dining district. They make the experience as friendly, warm and inviting as possible; this gets people to stay longer and spend more money. Their shops are open well into the evening hours. They include excellent wayfinding. Their downtowns are beautifully landscaped. They orchestrate the business mix. They employ every one of the 20 Ingredients we use in our presentations. And they are putting even more resources into their Downtown project, showing the rest of us a thing or two about where we ought to be putting our own resources.
A thriving downtown is the heart and soul of a community, and gives both residents and visitors what they really want – a great place to hang out, spend time, and money. Disney knows it and they are working to make their “downtown” even better.
What about yours? What kind of story does your downtown tell?
Here are some general rules to help you deal with too many window fliers. see more
Our hearts go out to retailers, particularly in smaller downtowns, when they are asked almost daily to post a flier in their store window for the next pancake feed, community event, school event, special sale, money-raising benefit, plus posters promoting goods or brands being sold, and the list goes on and on.
You also have your own “open” sign, your business hours, and often something that promotes your own special sale or event.
The challenge? Once you have more than four posters or signs in your display windows, studies show that shoppers will simply ignore them all. Too many posters reduce the appeal of your storefront and block potential buyers from seeing what you have displayed behind the glass.
Here are some general rules to help you deal with the quandary:
- Never put up more than four promotional fliers or posters at one time.
- Make sure they are NOT text heavy. Rarely will someone stand in front of a shop window for several minutes reading a flier. General rule: No more than 50 words (total) on a flier or poster.
- Keep them together: four wide or two top and two below.
- Never keep a poster up for more than three weeks. Otherwise, they become “old news” and will be ignored along with any new posters you add. Write on the back of the poster the date it should come down, and every day when you come to work, look at the date. When it’s time, remove the “expired” flier.
- Make sure the poster will help your business or will promote something you are a strong advocate for, beyond just posting it in your window.
When you have to turn down the next person who asks, just blame us. Or, better yet, have them tell you which of the existing fliers should come down and be replaced with theirs! The goal is to keep your business thriving, and keeping your shop windows attractive and uncluttered will help. This is just one of many little strategies that, when added up, will contribute to continued success.