Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance Receives Merit Award for Overall Pandemic Response

Excitingly, Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance (HDR) received a 2021 VMS Merit Award for the program’s overall pandemic response! The moment HDR learned of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the community, the organization sprang into action!

In early 2020, HDR convened the first meeting of what became the regional Harrisonburg-Rockingham Small Business Assistance Taskforce. HDR and other community changemakers raised $105,000 for regional small business grants and quickly designed a program to distribute money. In total, 22 downtown businesses received $68,000 in grants.

HDR also launched a retention program exclusively for downtown businesses, putting a spin on its existing Bricks & Clicks program. The modified version offered participants expert assistance in making modifications to their brick & mortar stores for enhanced COVID safety and/or adding e-commerce to their websites to generate more sales. All 22 applicants were accepted, purchased PPE, stayed in business and launched new online shopping tools.

The organization’s series of weekly emails provided vital and up-to-date pandemic survival information – from PPP to demystifying constantly changing regulations to offering tips and tricks for loan and grant applications and connecting with banks and small business counselors. HDR communicated weekly with almost 300 businesses, including 50 new-to-the-list businesses and others located outside of downtown.

HDR worked with the City of Harrisonburg to design and place two dozen “quick pick up” parking signs to enable easier curbside pickup at restaurants and retailers. HDR also developed a tool for businesses to generate a customized poster for their windows and social media designed to clearly communicate their COVID-19 safety practices.

HDR connected with regional customers through a multifaceted “support local safely” campaign, which included a PSA for social media and radio that reached over 6,000 people. HDR also developed an online directory with downtown businesses’ temporary hours, links to e-commerce, and options for local delivery. The directory had almost 20,000 page views, reached over 54,000 people on social media and was shared almost 500 times.

HDR bought gift cards from businesses directly so they could have the cash infusion immediately and invited customers to submit their receipts for a chance to win a $25 gift card from a business of their choice. HDR invited #EverydayHVA participants to post about their purchases and leave reviews for their favorite businesses. Almost 300 receipts were submitted, and in a survey at the end of the campaign, HDR learned that 42% of participants said the campaign made them think more about the importance of supporting local; they spent almost $7,000 with downtown businesses as part of the campaign, and half of the gift card winners spent more than the value of the gift card.

When HDR canceled its annual fundraiser because of the pandemic in 2020, it launched an online concert series called Sofapalooza in its place. The concert series met many of HDR’s organizational goals: 1) it supported local musicians during a time when live shows were canceled, 2) it brought joy into people’s homes during a stressful time, 3) it raised money for small businesses, and 4) it kept its brand and its mission in front of its community. Each concert aired on Facebook and YouTube at the same time each week, and people began to look forward to them. HDR secured just over $7,000 in sponsorships and donations and hosted nine virtual concerts, each available to watch for free. Sofapalooza had over 11,000 views, paid $1,500 to local musicians and distributed $5,470 in grants from its Small Business Resilience fund. At the end of the series, HDR filmed a wrap up video with a highlight reel and a reminder of who produced Sofapalooza and, most importantly, why.

HDR boosted its support local campaign even more around the holidays. The local Main Street program produced its first TV commercial and aired it on the local NBC affiliate station and multiple digital platforms.

HDR’s multi-prong pandemic response was launched quickly, supported a net gain of businesses downtown and was held up as a model by the National Main Street Center (NMSC). The organization hopes to never have to repeat this kind of triage, but it navigated through an unprecedented time by effectively using the Main Street Approach!

Click here to view the recorded 2021 VMS Merit Award presentation!