Recognizing the Hard Work on Main Street: Sandwich Sampler Competition

At the recent 2018 Downtown Intersections in Harrisonburg, we continued the tradition of acknowledging outstanding achievements in comprehensive downtown revitalization efforts through Merit Awards.  They recognize the hard work, dedication and success of Virginia’s Main Street communities and their achievements across the four point of the Main Street Approach®.  This is the third in a blog series to highlight each of the seven awards.

Promoting Main Street takes many forms, but the ultimate goal is to position the downtown as the hub of the community and economic activity, while creating a positive image that showcases a community’s unique characteristics.  This next award honors the best downtown restaurant promotion designed to generate foot-traffic to local eateries within the district.  Downtown Blackstone Inc. Executive Director Zachary Whitlow accepted the 2018 Best Downtown Restaurant Event award for the first annual Sandwich Sampler Competition.

This past spring, the first Sandwich Sampler Competition was held in downtown Blackstone’s Town Square.  The community was invited to sample signature sandwiches from participating local restaurants and take part in the voting for the best sandwich, crowning Blackstone’s Sandwich King or Queen.  The event was designed to showcase the quality of local cuisine and entice visitors to dine at the downtown eateries.  Downtown retail also gained exposure and amassed return customers through a cross-promotional campaign of special-offer coupons.

For the inaugural year, only 100 tickets were available for purchase, and it was a sell-out crowd! With a fine selection of local sandwich options, the competition was fierce, but the winner was quite clear. The Corner Kitchen won with a distinctive house-made strawberry ice cream sandwich.  While the inaugural event generated a small amount of revenue, it has the ability to become a profitable signature event. Given the vast amount of positive reviews, the competition will become a bigger and better annual event.

Congratulations Downtown Blackstone!

Visit downtown Blackstone for the upcoming Regional Rev Up: Opportunity Analysis – Effective Design, Oct. 17, 2018.

Webinar – Buy Local First: Driving Customers to Main Street for a Resilient Economy

On March 8, 12 – 1 p.m., Virginia Main Street is offering a free webinar focused on how to promote buying local and practical ways to build a resilient economy in your community.  

Local isn’t just a place on a map. It’s people: your neighbors and their families, their businesses, farms, nonprofits, events, and recreational venues. Local is a community and all of the opportunities we create together and challenges we work to overcome. Local First has a passion for people living and working together in sustainable community.

That’s Local First’s mission, a western Michigan advocacy organization, leader of a fast-growing movement, and the root of this webinar’s message.  By choosing local and independent businesses for your services, shopping, dining, and other needs, you not only enjoy a more distinctive and personal experience, you’re strengthening your local economy.

About the speaker:
Elissa Hillary, President, Local First, Grand Rapids, MI

Elissa Hillary is committed to building sustainable local economies that put people first.  As the President of Local First since 2007, she has brought together nearly 1,000 businesses in West Michigan to collaborate in building a vibrant community that encourages sustainable business and social enterprise development.  As a consultant and speaker, she magnifies that impact in communities around the world. Elissa is a founding Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) Fellow, the 2014 BCorp Measure What Matters Champion, and a BCorp Ambassador.

Register now for this event >>

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 >>>

Webinar – Business Booster: Recruitment and Retention Tactics for a Vibrant Downtown

On October 2, 12 – 1 p.m., Virginia Main Street is offering a free webinar focused on encouraging business growth in your downtown and helping existing businesses keep their doors open.  

One of the of the primary responsibilities of a Main Street program is to boost the economic growth of the business district.  With the rise of online shopping and convenient apps, where do you put the attention and resources to make downtown the first choice for shopping and dining?  As competition increases to capture spending, it is critical that your program understand its competitive advantages and develop targeted strategies for a sustainable retail base in downtown.

Check out this free webinar to help your Main Street program move from identifying unique market opportunities to developing resources and tools that form the foundation for growing existing businesses and attraction new ones to your commercial district.

About the speaker:

Matt Wagner, Ph.D., Vice President of Revitalization Programs, National Main Street Center

Matt Wagner has more than 20 years of non-profit management experience in downtown development, entrepreneurship, and tech-based development.  At the National Main Street Center, Matt is leading the launch of the renewed and re-imagined Four Point Approach, as well as helping the Center reach new communities with this refreshed framework.  Overseeing the Field Services team, Matt also leads the Center’s efforts to expand technical service offerings, and offer preservation-based economic revitalization services directly to communities.

Register now for this event >>

 

Farmville Shopping - Courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

Farmville Shopping – Courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

Five Things your Economic Vitality Committee can do Today to Support Downtown

In my Virginia Main Street wanderings and conversations with directors I’ve been hearing a common refrain – “What should our Economic Vitality committee be doing?” A thought provoking question that I am sure goes unasked more often than asked. As fate would have it I recently participated in a Hillary Greenberg webinar on supporting small businesses that provided me with a “lightbulb” moment. Sometimes our boards and committees get caught up in thinking big and miss some of the small, every day, right-in-front-of-your-nose kinds of things that could yield big results for the district.

    1. Is your downtown business friendly? The EV committee can review municipal codes, fees, permit processes and timelines – anything that pertains to establishing or growing a business in the Main Street district. Identify anything that would be a detriment to starting a business or fixing a building then work with the municipality on a making the code friendlier to small business.
    2. Help new businesses navigate the permit process. Now that the EV committee has a thorough understanding of all of the local hoops to jump through to open a business downtown, turn that information into a step-by-step guide for new business owners.
    3. Survey retailers and business owners. In person, with a flyer, online – ask the questions. What would help you to improve your business? Have some check boxes –
      • website development?
      • access to capital?
      • cooperative advertising?
      • loan pool?
      • new signage?
    4. Hold Retailer Round Tables. Use those survey responses to generate topics! One month bring in a marketing guru to discuss website content. The next month (or quarter) have the Promotions committee members come to talk about, and get feedback on, upcoming retailing events. Bring in an accountant to give a Quickbooks lesson. Respond to the retailer’s needs to help them grow their businesses.
    5. Create a Mentorship Network. Every district has those retailers and restaurateurs who are knocking it out of the park. Set up a network of successful business owners to work one-on-one with those that are struggling.

 

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but they are ideas that can be quickly assigned and implemented by a motivated EV committee that can make a real difference on the ground.

Does your EV committee do something innovative to improve downtown? We want to hear about it!

Virginia’s Craft Beer Scene is Booming

Governor Terry McAuliffe recently announced that Virginia is now home to 206 licensed breweries, a 468% growth since 2012, when the tasting room bill, SB604, passed the General Assembly. A newly released economic impact study shows that Virginia’s booming beer industry contributes more than $9.34 billion annually to Virginia’s economy.

“In addition to the direct economic impacts of manufacturing, the industry generates increased tourism-related revenues, provides new production and sales opportunities for our agricultural producers, and enhances community revitalization and development efforts in both rural and urban areas of the Commonwealth”, said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Todd Haymore.

This success story is close to home on Virginia’s Main Streets. One of the latest brewery additions is Sugar Hill Brewing Company in St. Paul, opened fall 2016.  The brewery added a much needed restaurant that is now a local favorite, a tourist destination, and a big economic boost to the small town. It complements the economic development strategy as an ecological and commercial hub – connecting downtown to hiking trails, off-road recreation, and summertime tube floats and kayaking on the Clinch River.

A frothy wave is crashing into our Main Street communities; one that is having a favorable impact on local opportunity, character, and spirits.  Check out more Virginia craft brewery offerings here >>

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.