Downtown: The Heart & Soul of a Community West Branch – Fabulous Fridays

West Branch business owners knew that they had the makings of a great downtown, but they wanted to encourage more people to visit downtown where they could shop, dine, attend events and mingle with their friends and family.

Project Scope

Fabulous Fridays is a weekly event throughout the summer that celebrates its culture and heritage by hosting different themed events.

The Gist

To create a more vibrant downtown, West Branch business owners, working with local officials and residents, created “Fabulous Fridays”, thereby creating a weekly destination and cultural event, revitalizing the streets of downtown after hours throughout the summer months.

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Accomplishments

  • Brought business leaders together to collectively imagine and create ongoing cultural events to activate their downtown.
  • Hosting Fabulous Fridays has boosted downtown businesses annually by 10 to 15 percent.
  • Attended by thousands, it has become a catalyst for spurring other events.
  • Has created an opportunity for spontaneous social interactions and reconnections through walkability.
  • Has drawn talented artists from all around the region giving them an opportunity to perform, display and sell their artwork.
  • Has incentivized several property owners to rehabilitate and preserve historic buildings in the community.
  • Based on street interviews, residents expressed a sense of pride for their community.
  • Attendance numbers have grown each year.
  • Served as a springboard for a Saturday farmer’s market which will double this year and add arts and crafts.

West Branch - Fabulous Fridays

Budget/Equipment -  Total annual budget:  $3,000

The Downtown Development Authority allocates $3000 for Fabulous Fridays.  This money is spent on printing costs for advertising flyers and printing and mailing costs for promotional mailings that are widely distributed.

The Downtown Promotions Committee, a group of business leaders and residents, holds a weekly breakfast meeting throughout the year to stay connected throughout the year and plan events that have now gone beyond Fabulous Fridays.  It developed and maintains an excellent working relationship with the city local officials.  One of their big  events, as part of Fabulous Fridays, is the Motor Cross, which requires designated full street closure.  A member of the committee brings to the council for approval.

No equipment required.   It is up to individual business owners to provide any seating, etc. outside of their storefronts.

Actions Taken

  1. Identify needs and opportunity: Every community has characteristics and elements to celebrate which sets it apart from other communities. Brainstorm on ideas that celebrate its heritage, its people, products, landscape, etc. Ask what will give that community its own unique identity.
  2. Follow the rules: Talk with your city officials and planning department to make sure that you are in compliance with your local ordinances and any other regulations required.West Branch - Fabulous Fridays
  3. Solicit neighborhood allies: It’s important to get buy-in right up front and educate the community on why investing in downtowns is so important.
  4. Make it accessible and fun: Make sure that there is something for everyone and the experiences are rich and layered for all ages.
  5. Promote good physical design: Create a physical space that allows people to sit and interact with those they don’t know. This will encourage spontaneous conversations and “get-to-know-your-neighbor” opportunities.
  6. It’s not just about the actual event: It’s about creating a welcoming place where people will visit, eat, and shop at other times of the week. Fabulous Fridays draws people from all over the region that have never set foot in West Branch before. Be flexible and open to other activities that can spawn from the original intent.

Lessons Learned

  • Identify the leaders and stakeholders in your community.
  • Educate the community on why investing in downtowns is so important.
  • Reach out and develop public/private partnerships.
  • Engage the community. Get buy-in from surrounding neighbors and businesses.  Demonstrate how increased people traffic benefits everyone.
  • Identify what defines your community (heritage, people, products, etc.) and celebrate it!
  • Identify potential funding sources for long-term sustainability.West Branch - Fabulous Fridays
  • Maintain a good interface with all businesses, even with those that don’t see a direct value in what you are trying to accomplish.
  • Contact the appropriate governing bodies upfront to make sure that everyone is on the same page.
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new. Stay flexible.
  • Without a more walkable downtown, i.e. safe pedestrian crossings, narrower main road, calming of traffic, more enhancements, it will be very difficult for businesses to be successful year round. Events can be a powerful impetus for some real change. The city has begun to work with MDOT to consider different options in making their downtown more pedestrian friendly.
  • Use social media—Twitter and Facebook—to market your business and engage the community.

Documents

For more information, contact: Peter Fabbri, Owner, The Silver Lining; pjfab1@aol.com

Visit:  http://www.westbranchevents.com/Fabulous-Fridays.html

Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fabulous-Fridays/133080580098308