The liveliest downtowns and main streets are no accident.
With the economy creeping toward recovery, investments made by business or retail property owners are calculated for the best return on the dollar.
Metro's latest resource to help retail shops, restaurants and ground floor businesses identify that low-cost high-impact investment is the Get Street Smart series – six free one-hour sessions providing tools and strategies for polishing a retail presence and boosting sales.
"Lively downtowns are characterized by attractive atmospheres, a fun mix of shops and a variety of eateries," says Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington. "Helping our local community downtowns become more lively is a valuable service that Metro provides small businesses, giving you more enjoyable and inviting places to spend time with your friends and family."
Educating business and property owners
Offered in Gresham, Hillsboro, Lake Oswego and Oregon City over six months, the series of meet-ups are led by local storefront, merchandising and design pros.
Co-presenters for the majority of the workshops are Seanette Corkill, visual merchandising and storefront design consultant with FrontdoorBack, and Brian Emerick, principal with Emerick Architects, specializing in historic preservation and main street architecture.
What can a participant expect to get out of the series?
"We'd like business owners to walk away more empowered to make the critical decisions (about their storefronts) that will affect their long-term sales," says Corkill. "Whether they're do-it-yourselfers or they direct a vendor to make changes in lighting or displays, the educated retailer will make the better investment by hiring the right person at the right time."
For property owners, making improvements to a building requires more long-term vision than decisions to change the store lighting or window display.
"Property owners need to think of their tenants as clients," says Brian Emerick, vice-chair of Portland's Historic District Landmarks Commission and Main Street Architect for the Portland Development Commission. "They need to consider what improvements would they do anyway that can make the tenant more successful at the same time."
Visible improvements boost sales, property values
As downtowns and main streets start to come alive in an emerging renaissance of historic shopping districts, property values begin to rise, enticing other property owners to get on board.
"This is where the catalytic project can play a role," says Emerick. "Pretty soon you have a few (improvement projects) you can string together that can have an impact."
The coordinated efforts of several property and business owners can deliver the greatest impact for an initial investment by spurring other improvements that boost sales and attract new tenants.
"If we can get five or six downtown property owners to make changes at the same time, we can make a visable impact," says Karla Antonini, downtown project manager with Hillsboro's economic development department. "People can see we're making an investment in the downtown area."
Creating destination districts
Metro is partnering with planning and economic development staff in each city to market the series to business and property owners, chambers and key stakeholders in commercial districts.
"Our downtown has been doing fairly well," says Brian Martin, associate planner with Gresham's comprehensive planning department. "But the business owners may not have the architect's eye or know how to pick the right paint color for their storefront. (This series) brings that expertise and helps them step it up a level."
In the last year and a half, Metro has brought in experts that specialize in downtown revitalization including local urban strategist, Michele Reeves, and national business destination expert, Jon Schallert.
July's Get Street Smart presentation covers boosting visibility with sidewalk displays.
The constant theme – small investments made by multiple businesses within a commercial district that, taken together, can transform it into a destination for local and out-of-state shoppers.
"Metro provides great resources (for downtown revitalization)," says Martin. "It's efficient to spread the cost among four communities at once; it provides consultant's services we couldn't afford on our own."
June through November workshops
Upcoming workshops in July focus on drawing customers through the door by activating sidewalk space with seating, planters, displays and staging. August workshops highlight using distinctive signs and lighting to highlight a business' unique character or inventory.
“The (Get) Street Smart workshops are a great opportunity for business owners to tap into consulting services for free," says Metro Councilor Shirley Craddick. "I encourage anyone who will benefit to take advantage of this resource."
No registration is needed for attending the workshops that continue through November.