For more than a decade, many of our downtown districts have been looking at ways to expand and draw people in. But this last year, with a global pandemic and shutdown, many retail owners and downtown development authorities had to adapt to new strategies and new normals. And today, they are having to address the following:
- How do we grow?
- What do we do with vacant real estate?
- How do we communicate our changes to the public and ensure them of our safety protocols?
- How can we create an attractive, safe, walkable space that fosters pride and passion for members of the community and encourages people to gather together?
- What does moving forward look like?
Growing your downtown district takes an understanding of your community's needs. It also takes innovative thinking. So here are some thought starters:
1. In a post pandemic world, outdoor space has become the key to success.
Sidewalks need to function not only as walkways but also as marketing tools for retailers to draw customers. By utilizing tables and racks on the sidewalks, merchants are able to entice shoppers to stop and shop rather than walk by and stare into storefronts. It also allows shop owners to be creative and fun by using music, creative lighting and signage to draw attention to passersby. Lastly, don’t be afraid to embrace diversification. The downtown district should be a popular place for residents to shop, dine and visit.
2. Vacant real-estate is a blight to downtown districts.
However, this can actually be a great opportunity to think outside the box. There are short-term solutions available if municipalities are willing to be flexible. Attracting start-up businesses, artists, galleries and pop-up businesses are some of the options available. Additionally, shared spaces can be created for multiple businesses and co-working offices can be set up for professionals from different industries. The NEST in Mount Clemens is a great example of this. They offer space for women-owned businesses, and when those businesses are ready to be out on their own, they fill the vacant spaces downtown. These innovative ideas allow owners to reduce cost while also encouraging networking and interaction amongst peers. It can also give life to vacant properties that are not being used.
3. Getting the word out and communicating to the public is vital to the downtown renaissance.
Local chambers of commerce and downtown development authorities are important because they are innovative leaders with boots on the ground in the communities. They have monthly meetings and huddles to collaborate and share ideas around lifting up existing businesses, marketing a new business opening and communicating to residents the wonderful and vibrant happenings around town. If your downtown area doesn’t have these partners to depend on, then it is important that business owners come together and create a taskforce with a common goal of making the downtown area safe, welcoming, relaxing and fun.
Remember, we are now living in a post-pandemic world where more safety procedures are being put into place for people to follow. Non-contact protocols are being utilized and online ordering and delivery services are being streamlined. Leaving the doors open, extending space on to the sidewalks and pay-as-you-go apps for mobile devices are being integrated into our everyday lives. And notably, robotics will no longer be a futuristic idea, as some businesses are not able to find all the employees they need and they will need to integrate some automation into their processes.
In closing, and moving forward, it’s important for business owners to stick to what’s working, communicate changes and remember that as people are relearning how to manage their time, convenience counts.
Todd Seibert is a senior economic developer for Macomb County Planning and Economic Development. Contact Todd with questions about the retail sector at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about this industry, visit https://business.macombgov.org/business-industries-retail.