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"Meet Me in Port Townsend": Main Street Campaign Promotes Washington Community's Unique Businesses

By Linda S. Glisson

Over the past six months, Port Townsend's downtown businesses have not only felt the impact of what began as an "economic downturn," which then became a full-blown recession. They have also experienced the added pain of particularly severe winter weather; the five-week closure of the Hood Canal Bridge, Port Townsend's main access to Seattle, Tacoma, and other communities; and reduced ferry service/capacity from Whidbey Island.

"The bridge closure, coupled with the recession and the reduced ferry service, was a frightening prospect," says Mari Mullen, executive director of the Port Townsend Main Street Program. "We surveyed our businesses to gauge priorities, determined additional marketing to be paramount, and got to work applying for grants and matching funds and designing a $30,000 marketing campaign."

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Port Townsend's marketing campaign includes print and e-postcards.

Credit: Kevin Mason

It was the perfect time, says Mullen, to get word out that the downtown was open and filled with interesting, owner-operated businesses with great stories to tell. To tell their stories and attract new customers, the Main Street program launched the "Meet Me in Port Townsend" campaign, which includes regional and local print/online ads, rotating special feature days in participating stores, a campaign-specific website, video clips, e-postcards, and special events in May and June. Thirty-three businesses signed on – "taking all the slots we had," says Mullen, "plus there was a waiting list."

Nearly 95 percent of Port Townsend's downtown businesses are locally owned.  To create the marketing campaign for this distinctive historic commercial district, the Port Townsend Main Street Program hired a talented team of local website designers, photographers, and videographers, and got to work.

Web designers Jon Muellner (windseyedesign.com) and Kevin Mason (Victorianworkshop.com) developed the Meet Me in Port Townsend website. Kevin Mason's photography is featured on the campaign graphics; and Jane Champion, owner of Port Townsend-based Champion Video Productions (jane@championvideo.com), created the video segments that tell the stories behind the storefronts. She was assisted by Michael Delagarza.

The "Meet Me in Port Townsend" website promotes the unique qualities of Port Townsend's destination commercial historic districts – shopping, dining, arts, entertainment, and outdoor activities – to targeted markets that include local residents, Peninsula neighbors, and regional visitors. An NPR radio campaign invited Seattle customers back after the Hood Canal Bridge reopened. 

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Videographer Jane Champion filmed Port Townsend business owners to tell their stories on the Meet Me in Port Townsend website.

Credit: Port Townsend Main Street

Meet Me in Port Townsend's visually powerful website invites visitors to get a taste of the business mix in town, learn more about local stores by exploring the merchants' websites, and "meet the business owners" by watching the videos. The Port Townsend Leader runs weekly campaign ads that invite customers to visit a featured business and take advantage of the special offer of the week.

Each ad contains a "little-known fact" about the proprietor to spark interest. The merchant offers a featured discount and creative refreshments, such as cooking up "s'mores" over a camp stove at a camping store. One store bought Seattle radio advertising to boost the campaign. A different business is spotlighted each week and featured on the Meet Me in Port Townsend website.

The marketing campaign, which will run through November, is loosely based on a similar campaign launched in Leesburg, Virginia. "One of the goals of the Port Townsend campaign is to make businesses more competitive in the marketplace by taking advantage of the Internet − participating businesses were encouraged to have a website in place, or develop one," says Mullen. "We worked with our local partners to offer a series of seminars that prepared business owners for the bridge closure, including a session on e-commerce and website design." The website has generated more than 7,000 visits to date. 

A matching grant was awarded by the Washington State Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development (CTED) and Washington State Tourism to implement the marketing campaign. Additional funding was provided by Puget Sound Energy, the Port Townsend Main Street Program, the City of Port Townsend and participating businesses. Visitwww.experiencewa.com and find out more about statewide efforts to promote wine and culinary tourism.

Check out the site for yourself. Visit www.meetmeinporttownsend.com.

America Unchained! Canada Unchained!

By Andrea L. Dono

Mark your calendars and encourage people to spend their money at independent businesses on November 21, 2009, which marks the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA) continent-wide shop local day.

For America Unchained!/Canada Unchained!, communities throughout the continent will be urged to "unchain" to maximize the impact of their dollars. By joining other residents to do their shopping, dining out, and other business only with locally owned, independent businesses, they can inject potentially millions of additional dollars into the local economy.

Visit AMIBA's website – http://amiba.net/Unchained.html – to let the organization know that your community is planning to participate in the event and to download a variety of campaign materials, logos, templates, talking points, and more to help promote the event on your Main Street.