That has become the age old question.
As a board member of the Preston Area Chamber of Commerce, I recently had someone ask me what the Chamber was doing about stimulating the downtown business community.
Before I tell you how I responded, I’ll give you a little background.
Over the past 40 years, many downtown communities have lost something they will never regain. While we can talk about the good ole days, things will never be the same.
Do you realize at one time there were seven gas stations in Preston? There were multiple clothing stores, banks, newspapers, grocery stores, hardware stores. Heck, there was even a Coast-to-Coast and a Montgomery Wards in Preston! My great-grandfather owned the Massey Harris implement and Chevrolet dealership. He passed away when I was about six years old, and I remember going to the dealership with my father. According to my father, there were two new car dealers in town. Today, we don’t have any car dealers, new or used, in Preston.
And, then our downtown traffic was rerouted with the help of highways and byways.
We can never go back in time and recreate what once was the business landscape of yesteryear.
With that said, we need to strive for authenticity.
Every community is taking a gamble on what they believe will be the right recipe for success. In some cases it is by design and in other cases it is a matter of luck.
Entrepreneurs can fall into our laps. Or, we can attempt to jump-start opportunities that may never bear fruit.
It begs the question: who is responsible for making our downtown communities thrive?
And, here’s my response to that question.
Collectively, all of us are responsible. It’s not up to one individual or a single organization.
It’s not the local chamber of commerce or commercial club. Local business membership organizations such as a chamber of commerce or commercial club bring the businesses together to help promote the business community and connect with local residents along with tourists through special events and marketing opportunities.
And, it’s not the Economic Development Authority (EDA). The EDA works with businesses applying for qualifying funds related to business sustainability or growth. Usually, these funds are dedicated to tangible hard asset investments such as buildings or equipment.
The EDA and the chamber of commerce (or commercial club) serve very different purposes, but their efforts may intersect at some point.
So, what is the key to making our downtown business communities thrive?
We need a few contingent ingredients: 1) Someone with the confidence, knowledge, and experience in a particular industry; 2) Someone willing to take a risk; and 3) Someone with the financial means.
There is one important and final ingredient that you can contribute to this recipe for success. Shop local. Support your local merchants. When you spend money with a local business, it actually means something to the local business owner. Customers are not just a number. You are the lifeblood of our local economy.
You’ve probably seen an ad in the Fillmore County Journal that says the following:
“When you buy from a mom and pop business, you are not helping a CEO buy a third vacation home. You are helping a little girl get dance lessons, a little boy get his team jersey, a mom or dad put food on the table, a family pay a mortgage, or a student pay for college. Our customers are our shareholders and they are the ones we strive to make happy. Thank you for supporting small businesses.”
Please think about this message as you choose who you are going to support over the holidays.