Late last week, I attended a downtown managers' conference where, though it was not on the agenda, a great deal of the discussion centered around the impact of the Corona Virus. Downtown managers were anxious about how to provide leadership and help to small businesses in their jurisdiction. With social distancing requirements in place and mandatory restaurant and bar closures in many parts of the country, downtown businesses will be struggling to survive a slow down in business with no end in sight.
The usual methods used by downtown place management organizations such as Main Streets, downtown development authorities, and business improvement districts involve attracting large volumes of people. Oftentimes, when downtown business needs a boost, the downtown organization creates an event to attract more potential shoppers and diners. This is not an option in the age of COVID-19. Even simply advertising for downtown is extremely complicated by the need to keep people apart.
So what can downtown managers do? They should be looking at both short-term and long-term strategies to navigate this crisis.
Here are three things downtown organizations can do in the short term:
For the long term, its important that downtowns, as well as larger municipalities, have a renewed focus on resilient economic development. One thing that can be done now is developing an Economic Development Strategy now so that your downtown can hit the ground running when things get back to normal. This kind of strategy should include a clear vision for your downtown's future, targeted strategies to achieve it, and the means to measure progress on achieving the vision.
These are trying times requiring collective financial pain. Downtowns can get through it by focusing on helping their small businesses now, and laying a path for a successful future.
Rob Bacigalupi helped build one of the premier downtowns in the Midwest