January 13, 2021 | The Grills Fund for Main Street Revitalization: Project Progress |
In May, eight Accredited Main Street America Programs received $10,000 each from the Grills Fund for Main Street Revitalization
to implement innovative projects to address the current and/or legacy impacts of COVID-19. Nearly eight months later, these communities have implemented a range of inspiring projects and are seeing impressive results – from leveraging local investments and creating new partnerships to sparking more jobs and increasing entrepreneurship. Learn more about their progress below.
About the Project: Main Street Wooster developed a creative solution to promote safety, inject cash downtown, and encourage a sense of community. First, Main Street Wooster established a taskforce of local public health experts to develop health and safety training videos for downtown businesses. Once merchants complete the trainings, they receive a Certificate of Completion to display in their windows to boost residents’ confidence in returning downtown. Main Street Wooster also launched a “Cruise to the Drive-In” event, bringing residents to a pop-up Drive-In Movie Theater, along with food trucks and booths from brick-and-mortar eateries.
Project Progress: Main Street Wooster hosted their “Cruise to the Drive-in” event in September, using a popup theater for an estimated 150 residents to enjoy a movie after a day of shopping. Wooster developed several innovative ideas to get residents back downtown for Shop Small promotions, including giving merchants $5 for any selfie taken with them during the event. The Shop Small Saturday incentive has been very well received, and many retailers came close to or exceeded their previous sales records. Wooster expanded the Selfie Contest to allow selfies with products purchased online or via carry-out. Main Street Wooster has also completed their training videos that explain the Ohio Health Department's operating requirements for the retail, restaurant, and personal care sectors.
About the Project: Coal Avenue Commons isn’t a typical entrepreneur resource center. While it will provide established and aspiring entrepreneurs with space, resource connections, skills building training, and entrepreneur-focused boot camps, it will also spark the rehabilitation or reuse of properties in the district. By popping up in underutilized or vacant properties and providing space for meetings, working, and pop-up businesses, Coal Avenue Commons will advertise and demonstrate potential uses for these locations in the district.
Project Progress: Since May, Gallup has cleaned up a downtown space for the resource center and purchased furniture and equipment that can be moved easily if their needs change or they move to a new location. They are working on finding part-time help to manager the center, as well as doing 1:1 outreach for shared desk use / co-working. The Resource Center has held two virtual workshops and 12 one-on-one consultations to date. They have 13 additional virtual business and entrepreneur workshops scheduled through early March. Gallup has also completed their website "hub" to reflect the business resource center and offerings. The Grills Grant has sparked a matching grant from the New Mexico Oil and Gas Brighter Future Fund to allow Gallup MainStreet to extend the new program through the spring.
About the Project: In Donaldsonville, social distancing has been a challenge due to a lack of public transportation and delivery services. During the pandemic, many residents shopped often and waited in long lines, which contributed to positive COVID-19 cases. Donaldsonville Downtown Development District intends to make it easier for residents to social distance and inspire entrepreneurship downtown by investing in a business that creates a localized food, grocery, prescription drug, and other essential needs delivery service. The district is holding a virtual business competition where entrepreneurs present a business plan and virtual pitch to a panel of judges. The winning entrepreneur will be awarded the $10,000 Grills Grant to start the delivery service.
Project Progress: Donaldsonville has selected finalists with the strongest business plans to start a local delivery service. A panel of community leaders will hear virtual presentations from each finalist and select the winning proposal. After a winner is selected, Donaldsonville anticipates the new service will begin shortly.
Meet ME Downtown in Niles: Niles Main Street (Niles, MI)
About the Project: To bring businesses into the digital age and encourage residents to support locally owned establishments, Niles Main Street created an online sales portal for their local merchants called Meet ME Downtown in Niles. Niles had already started telling stories of their local businesses on social media and plans to repurpose this content for the website, which will be accompanied by links to webstores (for those that have them). Along with the website, Niles Main Street created promotional materials, including posters, window clings for participating businesses, car window clings for customers, t-shirts, and shopping bags, as well as advertising with local newspaper and radio media.
Project Progress: Niles’ e-commerce site went live just before Thanksgiving, and Niles Main Street is beginning to run local ads promoting participating merchants. The Meet Me in Downtown Niles promotion includes a 25 percent discount on “Downtown Dollars,” which provide shoppers with deals on merchandise and services. The new downtown website includes at least one product or service from nearly every business in the district. For many small businesses, this will be a first step toward their own e-commerce website. Niles hasn’t lost any downtowns businesses since the pandemic started.
About the Project: With limited income, many businesses in Kendall Whittier were struggling to pay rent to property owners. To keep businesses viable, Kendall Whittier Main Street offered a Rent Relief Program for business owners who either pay rent or mortgage on a Kendall Whittier property. The grants made rent payments directly to the landlord each month. For businesses that own their property, the grant pays the business and requests proof of mortgage payment for the month.
Project Progress: Kendall Whittier developed a review team to assess rent relief needs. They leveraged the Grills Grant funding to generate a total of $36,200 from foundations and companies. In May, 14 businesses had rent paid from these funds. In June, 13 businesses received rent support. And in July, five businesses were supported. No Kendall Whittier business had to shutter completely as a result of the pandemic. Okmulgee Main Street in Oklahoma built their own rent relief program after hearing about the program in Kendall Whittier. They capped their program at $500 each
and raised the money by selling off historic bricks from streets that had been repaved.
Technology Audit and Small Business Training: Main Street Laurens (Laurens, SC)
About the Project: In the wake up COVID-19, Main Street Laurens saw a need to help their small businesses develop a stronger online presence in recovery and well into the future. That’s why they decided to launch a technology audit and small business training program. The audit provides businesses with a comprehensive assessment of current technology, its effectiveness, and practical strategies to grow an online presence. Following the audit, Main Street Laurens produces a marketing checklist and a workshop to provide an overview of marketing concepts for district businesses. After the workshop, small businesses can apply to receive one-on-one assistance and participate in sessions about marketing concepts.
Project Progress: Main Street Laurens has conducted the marketing training, and many of their local businesses are already making improvements based on recommendations from the workshop. The funding has also helped five businesses launch their own websites for the first time with small sub-grants. Finally, Main Street Laurens was able to use some of the Grills Grant funding to leverage a grant from the Municipal Association of South Carolina and Main Street South Carolina to get help with designing a more user-friendly website, including ecommerce functionality.
Shop Downtown New Bern: Swiss Bear, Inc. (New Bern, NC)
About the Project: The Shop Downtown New Bern e-commerce website is a digital one-stop shopping platform that will help Downtown New Bern retailers reach customers during recovery and well into the future. The marketplace provides convenient shopping for customers when they are unable to visit physical locations and allows retailers to sell inventory safely. The platform also gives merchants without an ecommerce site an opportunity to sell goods, while allowing merchants with existing platforms an opportunity to expand their online presence.
Project Progress: Swiss Bear, Inc. launched the downtown New Bern ecommerce site in December. Twenty-three businesses participated in the initial launch, and they expect that another 12-15 will add their merchandise in early 2021. Prior to launching the site, Swiss Bear, Inc. met with local business owners to provide website training and help them build merchandise and services into the shared website.
About the Project: Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance is boosting local online shopping and building consumer confidence in returning downtown (once it’s safe to do so) by helping businesses implement digital and physical store improvements through a three-part small business assistance program called Bricks & Clicks.
Project Progress: After the team in Harrisonburg provided training and resources to interested business owners, 20 businesses submitted applications and were accepted to the program. Participants got matched with local technical assistance experts, who helped them identify solutions to challenges and prepare grant project proposals. Grant-eligible projects could either address public health improvements at physical locations (the Bricks) or make digital enhancements (the Clicks) to boost online brand identity and e-commerce. Harrisonburg raised additional funds for the Bricks and Clicks program through fundraising efforts and working with partners. To date, 18 of 20 projects have been completed and funded and $32,230 in total grant funds have been distributed. This is more than 3 to 1 leverage from the Grills Grant. Learn more about their project here.