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Innovation Lab: Tips for Implementing Community Engagement Projects

May 21, 2020 | Innovation Lab: Tips for Implementing Community Engagement Projects |

Wooster2.pngDowntown Wooster. Credit: Janet Welty

Earlier this week, we announced the recipients of the Grills Fund for Main Street Revitalization, which will provide eight Accredited Main Street America Programs $10,000 each to help fund innovative revitalization efforts to address the current and/or legacy impacts of COVID-19. We wanted to give you the details on these creative responses to the effects of the pandemic so you can implement similar programs in your community. Keep reading to find out about how one Main Street community plans to use community engagement to support their Main Street and get tips to launch a similar project in your district. 

Wooster Comeback: Main Street Wooster, Inc. (Wooster, OH)

With businesses at risk of closing and the Main Street program’s event revenue slashed, Main Street Wooster came up with a creative two-pronged solution to promote safety, inject cash downtown, and promote a sense of community. First, Main Street Wooster will develop a set of health and safety standards for downtown businesses to ensure customer safety and make people feel more comfortable returning to downtown. Once merchants complete a set of safety training videos, they will receive a Certificate of Completion to display in their windows as a sign to customers that they can feel confident entering the store.

Main Street Wooster will also launch a “Cruise to the Drive-In” series to provide events that are safe for public participation, while generating sales for downtown merchants. Police will lead vehicles on a designated route from downtown through selected neighborhoods, ending at a pop-up drive-in movie theater. Admission of a vehicle to the drive-in theater will be either $10, or a receipt from a downtown business (dated that day) for $15 or more. Local food trucks will be invited to set up at the theater site on the condition that they partner with at least two downtown brick-and-mortar eateries to provide their menu items. Audio will be accessible through a local radio station. The nostalgic cruising and drive-in event will promote a sense of continuity and community downtown.

If you’re interested in hosting a similar event or launching a set of safety standards for your businesses, check out the tips below to get started:

Engage local public health and government leaders in your program:
  • Wooster plans to establish a task force of officials from the local community hospital, County Health Department, and the City to develop their health and safety standards and training videos for downtown businesses.
  • This Task Force will periodically visit each participating merchant to ensure that health and safety practices are being followed. If not, the merchant gets one retraining session. If the practices are not followed subsequently, the merchant will be removed from the program.
Incentivize health and safety practices among your downtown merchants and event-goers:
  • For each “Cruise to the Drive-in” event, Main Street Wooster will purchase $10 gift cards from 25 of the merchants who earned a Certificate of Completion in the safety program.
  • On the day of the event, one random downtown pedestrian who is wearing a facemask will be given all 25 gift cards, with appropriate publicity.
Find ways to inject some fun into socially-distanced events:
  • At the Cruise to the Drive-in events, Main Street Wooster will award prizes for Best Decorated Auto, Best Decorated Business, and Best Decorated Residence. These types of contest should also generate social media traction.
Find sponsorship opportunities for your new programs:
  • Main Street Wooster will solicit sponsors to fund training video updates, as needed.
  • Advertising will be sold and broadcast during the drive-in movie event via the video and/or radio feed. Sponsor banners can be set up at the theater site.
  • Sponsorships can be sold for the Best Decorated contests, as well as the gift card prize. 

Disclaimer: This material has been prepared for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for legal, insurance, liability, tax, or accounting advice. You should consult your own legal, insurance, tax, and accounting advisors for guidance on these matters.