The National Main Streets Conference is a big event. This year over 1,400 people attended the conference and there were approximately 75 sessions to choose from. Needless to say it was difficult to choose which sessions to attend. Of the sessions that I attended two stood out for me as being really helpful for our Main Street members: “The Naked Truth about Well-Dressed Windows” and “Main Street Makeover – Surviving and Thriving during Construction”.
Store owners only have a few seconds to convince a passerby to enter their establishment. The quality and interest of store window displays goes a long way in enticing potential shoppers. “The Naked Truth about Well-Dressed Windows” provided by Seanette Corkill of Frontdoor Back, a retail consultant based out of Vancouver, Washington, included a lot of practical advice on how to plan for and manage your window displays.
Seanette covered planning and investment for window dressings and stressed the importance of budgeting for lighting and props to build a collection that can be used over time. The decision on what type of backdrop to use is important and you can choose from full disclosure (store is visible behind the display), partial disclosure (where the store is partially visible but separated from the display) and closed (display blocked from the rest of the store). Decals are a good addition to storefront but they should be modest in size, not interrupt sightlines and placed to direct the eye to the display itself. Lighting is immensely important and should consist of tracked lighting that will light the top and front of the product on display.
Switching topics from the pretty to the dirty, Kristi Trevarrow’s session on “Surviving and Thriving during Construction” drew on her role with the Rochester Downtown Development Authority in coordinating a main street upgrade project in Rochester, Michigan. The project involved a complete overhaul of the roads, underground services and streetscape and affected their downtown main street for several months. Her responsibility was to minimize the impact of the construction project on local businesses.
According to Kristi, the key to managing business during a successful construction project is pre-planning and communication. In her case, Kristi started holding information meetings two years in advance of the construction and met with everyone she could think of including business owners, residents, local organizations, major employers, property owners and adjacent municipalities. Communications for the project included a project website with regular updates; a brochure with frequently asked questions for businesses to hand out to their patrons; a comprehensive media engagement strategy; social media updates; a field office on the main street for the project (which they built into the project contract); monthly community meetings throughout the duration of the project; and last but not least, a presence on the street every day during construction to field questions and respond to concerns. There were still hiccups that occurred along the way but the high level of planning and engagement by the Development Authority minimized negative experiences.
Both high quality window displays and infrastructure renewal projects can go a long way to ensuring your main street is looking top notch. These sessions were helpful in teaching the ins and outs of how to schedule and manage aesthetic projects from the small to large.
Written by: Rebecca Goodenough, Municipal Heritage Services Officer