All grown up, going to town
The local downtown merchants' association, the Eureka Springs Downtown Network, has graduated to a full-fledge Main Street program, meaning it is affiliated with Main Street programs throughout the country. So for its annual meeting last week, Director Jacqueline Wolven thought it was time to let members be heard, not just seen.
"We're all grown up," she said. "It's time to get a sense of what the community wants, to get an idea of where you want to go."
The national Main Street program was created to preserve and revitalize historic downtowns and is under the auspices of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In Eureka Springs, the program covers downtown from Planer Hill, at the main entrance to town, to the train station, and up the hill to the library. The goals: to support business education, provide programming, and promote preservation and economic development. The first goal is met by free monthly workshops, open to all, that Wolven puts on with the support of Cornerstone Bank, which provides the meeting space. In previous workshops, Wolven covered how to use the internet, Facebook and Twitter to drum up business. At the next workshop, at 9 a.m. on Oct. 9, she'll show how to put it all together.
Under promotion, the Downtown Network sponsors Drumming in the Park, Movies in the Park, Main Street USA, Let's Get Local, the Bluegrass Festival watermelon social, Spring Break and promotional events at Christmas. The annual sales graph for Eureka Springs used to look like an upside-down U, Wolven said. Since the Christmas promotion started three years ago, local sales-tax receipts have risen consistently in November and December, she said, and are up 12 percent for December.
"In the past Eureka Springs was closed after October," Wolven said.
The Downtown Network receives funding from a grant from Main Street Arkansas, but its main funding comes from two downtown walking tours it runs. The Basin Park Hotel and Peace, Love and Cheesecake also provide sponsorship. Cornerstone Bank is the education sponsor, and eurekasprings.com sponsors the Christmas program, Wolven said. The Downtown Network holds city-wide clean-ups and an adopt-a-garden program, and has exterior/interior design consultant available for individual consultations. The Network is also the local entity for Keep America Beautiful and the Butt-Out America campaign.
"Research shows that if your street is beautiful, people will spend more time and more money there," Wolven said.
Suggestions from business owners attending last week's meeting included closing Spring Street to vehicle traffic at least part of the day. Noisy motorcycles and steep sidewalks are the things that tourists express concern about the most, Wolven said.
Other suggestions from members: keep stores open late in the summer. Wolven noted that Romancing the Stone stays open late for one reason-- the store, one of a chain, is making money. It's harder to do for a person or couple who own a store, but Marsha Havens, owner of Eureka Thyme, says she does it to save her sanity, and because it makes money.
Wolven noted that downtown Eureka Springs has more shops per capita than most towns, and only three in the district are empty at present. A National Parks presentation includes Eureka Springs, showing "how cool our town is," Wolven said. Dee Bright, president of the local Historic Preservation Society, said that Eureka Springs is recognized around the country. A group of tourism representatives from three states were in town the previous weekend. They were particularly impressed that shops in Eureka Springs are open on Sunday, she said.
"And we sell liquor," said Michelle McDonald, owner of Eureka Van Tours and the costume shop, Celebrations and Traditions.
When the push to promote downtown started four years ago, the Basin Park Hotel's income was dropping, Wolven said. Since then, the hotel has seen double-digit growth every year, she said. The bottom line for the Downtown Network: to keep Eureka Springs a strong, vibrant city.
"There's nothing worse than driving into town on a Thursday night and nothing's happening downtown," Wolven said.
Eureka Springs Downtown Network has an open meeting on the third Thursday of the month at 9 a.m. at the Mud Street Cafe, 22 S. Main. For more information, go to www.eurekaspringsdowntown.com, the Eureka Springs Downtown Network Facebook page or twitter eurekadowntown.
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Jennifer Jackson is features writer for the Lovely County Citizen. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.