As our conversation progressed, we rarely met a topic we didn’t agree on. In fact, it wasn’t until we started discussing the first step that needs to be taken to rejuvenate main street that our paths diverged.
I’m a firm believer in tools. The more free, useful tools we can offer to small businesses, the better the businesses will do, and the better our main street will look. If we can make businesses more efficient and level the playing field (against Wal-Mart, the internet, etc), our main street will have no other option than to grow. And we do that with technology, hence the creation of Shopbengil.com. It solves 3 problems almost every business faces: 1) Customer convenience without added expenses: It allows a business to sell 24 hours per day, 7 days per week without incurring any added expenses. 2) Lower overhead and initial investment: For retail businesses considering opening a brick and mortar store, the site allows them to create a virtual store for free and test their business model prior to investing tens of thousands of dollars in a building. 3) Better analytics: Numbers drive businesses. Wal-Mart, Amazon.com, Target, and other wildly successful businesses are all data driven. The more information they have about their customers, the better they can serve them, the more products they sell them, and the more money they make from them. Old school cash registers just don’t cut it. They provide too little sales data. Technology is the answer.
Bill disagreed. According to him, our main problem was our curb appeal. “It would be like someone looking to buy a house. What’s the exterior like? Can I fix the interior for a reasonable amount of money? Is the yard landscaped and well groomed? What kind of neighborhood is it in? How do the neighbors’ houses look? If I buy it and spend money on renovations, will it retain its value and possibly even provide a return on investment?”
Bill was right. The more I thought about it, the more I understood the importance of “curb appeal.” If you talk to any business guru, the firs 3 words you’ll hear when considering opening a retail store: location, location, location. It matters! Just ask Starbucks, Walgreens, or McDonald’s.
I love going to historic St. Charles. I love the look. I love the feel. I love the atmosphere. I don’t shop for crafts or drive an hour for the restaurants. I waste my gas because I love the admiring the historic buildings, and taking in the sights and sounds of people shopping. Every time we go, I tell my wife I’d love to open up a business there. It’s all about location. It has a beautiful curb appeal.
And it’s because of Bill’s suggestion, we decided to create a “main street makeover” grant. The grant will be funded by Ageless and ShopBenGil.com, and is available to any business located on the BenGil main street. We’ll match up to $300 for any project that improves the exterior of a business located on the main street. It doesn’t matter if it’s a new sign, paint, new flower pots, a new outdoor sound system, or new outdoor furniture. If it improves the look of main street, it meets our requirements.
We plan on offering a minimum of 6 grants over the course of the next 12 months. We hope that this creates a domino effect, and spurs the involvement of other local, successful businesses in improving our local economy. Donations are always welcome. The more money we get, the more money we’ll give out, and the more improvements we’ll make. It’s how economies should be improved: businesses helping businesses. It’s the essence of small town living: helping your neighbor out when he needs help. It’s not a handout. It’s an investment. Whether businesses like to admit it or not, we all depend on each other, and we need to start investing in each other.
We’ll start with existing businesses, and hopefully eventually progress to empty buildings. Just imagine how much better the main streets would look if every empty building had a “dummy store” in it. All it would take is a sign, a little exterior paint, and a few items in the window, and our main street would look full again. Imagine what that would do for curb appeal.
Either option would help improve our local economy, but combine the two and 1+1 now equals 3.
I like your idea a lot and salute you for your willingness to put your wallets where your mouth is! Your ideas have me thinking about how the City can become a partner/investor in this concept because its long been my belief that if we are all in this together (and we are) than we should all bear part of the load. A couple of points, though: 1) keeping your St. Charles example in mind, we have some truly beautiful buildings in downtown Gillespie but not all repairs/renovations will accentuate their design attributes. If you have ever stood on one side of Macoupin Street and looked at the buildings on the other side- street level first, second story second- you will quickly see that rather than following the appropriate details we have often changed the first floor facade so that it is completely different from the second story design. That weakens the visual appeal and design integrity of the entire downtown. 2) research by the National Main Street Center shows that history is a real economic engine and that towns that keep their history alive: via festivals, building restoration, and coordinated promotions, are more likely to thrive financially. Food and entertainment, mixed with physical and intellectual activities, are key traffic builders for downtowns and usually are pivotal for an areas long term prospects. Plus they greatly enhance the overall quality of life. So, you guys are certainly on the right tract, and good luck on your ventures. We’ll see if there are ways some of the rest of us can help move your projects along!
We will take any and all help we can get… In all honesty, this is a spinoff of the of the idea you had previously talked about with me. Bill had reinforced it.
As far as the buildings are concerned, we completely agree. Continuity matters. A theme should be created and kept. If not, even “new” renovations appear tacky.
Jim Marcacci has a wonderful business that oozes history. All he needs is a coffee shop to display it in.