Illinois Main Street: Back on Track

Historic Quincy Business District: Small Business Saturday in Quincy

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Founded in 1996, the Historic Quincy Business District (HQBD) is funded by a diverse revenue stream, including: $50,000 from a special service area taxing district (or business improvement district as it is known in other parts of the country); a city contribution of $15,000; and $95,000 of earned and contributed revenue from special events, annual gifts, and fund-raising events. This healthy budget for a city of 40,000 people also takes into account the hundreds of volunteers and years of work that got the organization to this level.

Located on the western edge of the state, on the banks of the Mississippi River, Quincy has a handsome assortment of high-quality historic buildings in varied architectural styles built by generations of 19th and 20th-century entrepreneurs. These delightful buildings continue to grace this preservation-friendly town.

The longstanding partnership between the HQBD and Quincy Preserves, the local preservation advocacy group, developed over the years. To help jumpstart the revival of downtown, the HQBD’s Design Committee and Quincy Preserve volunteers dove in with hands-on work to strip off “slipcovers,” paint storefronts, and otherwise call attention to the spectacular commercial architecture in the downtown.

Dynamic Partnerships

Over the last three years, the commercial development of downtown Quincy has exploded, with the opening of more than 55 new businesses. Among downtown’s business owners are some great entrepreneurs who are working together to make their businesses, and the downtown stronger. One such example can be found in the partnership among Celia’s Gifts & More, The Park Bench, and Cellar 21.

Owned by Celia Neff, Celia’s Gifts & More is a gift and home décor store in the heart of Quincy’s downtown. In the summer of 2011, Quincy was hit by a devastating windstorm that severely
damaged all three floors of the building housing Celia’s Gifts, including the owner’s home on the second story.

During the renovation, a great opportunity presented itself. Sue and Jerry Schmidt own two buildings adjacent to Celia’s. Like Celia, the Schmidts live on the second floor of one of their buildings. The Schmidts were in the process of relocating their popular Park Bench restaurant from the opposite side of Celia’s to its current location in a building owned by the couple. At the same time, the Schmidts were opening Cellar 21, Quincy’s only wine bar, in their adjacent building.

The three decided to team up and rehabilitate the three spaces and open walls, thereby creating a wonderful space where people can shop and dine without having to step outdoors. The three businesses open into each other, creating a unique and memorable space that has become a huge hit with downtown customers.

Just a few blocks away, Kris Kutcher owns and operates Kristopher’s Hair Studio, an upscale salon on Maine Street. Kutcher and his partner remodeled the building a few years ago, at the start of downtown’s new resurgence. The salon brings hundreds of people to downtown each week, and serves as a jumping-off point for many groups that spend the day in downtown. Businesses such as these continue to keep the downtown thriving and make the district even more attractive to both customers and other entrepreneurs.

Strategy for the Future

In the past year, Jacqui Bevelheimer, one of the Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity's Regional Outreach staffers who work with Illlinois Main Street towns, has helped the HQBD make connections to funding programs and technical assistance for merchants and property owners alike. Like other DCEO Regional Office staff, Bevelheimer is often downtown and attends committee meetings regularly. Her recent involvement in the meetings that led to a new strategic plan helped “steer conversation toward economic development and how DCEO can help us,” says Travis Brown, HQBD’s executive director.

The new strategic plan has five major initiatives, one of which is to better recruit and communicate with potential customers and tourists. A Smart Phone app is in the works, and more help is on the way to
help local business owners become more technologically savvy through workshops and one-on-one assistance.

Promoting Prosperity

Another way that the district promotes itself is through TV advertising. In years past, the local NBC-TV affiliate, WGEM Channel 10, which is located in the district, and HQBD joined together occasionally to produce holiday advertising, but the thumping music of the Historic Quincy Business District’s wildly successful three-and-a-half minute video image campaign was a huge departure for the organization.

This image campaign tells the downtown’s story with colorful, quick cuts between still and action shots of downtown signs, people, and events throughout the year. The video, which won the Lt. Governor’s Award for Excellence in Downtown Revitalization at the 2011 Illinois Main Street State Conference, was shown on both the Comcast cable TV outlets and the local NBC affiliate throughout the fall of 2010, and it’s still available on YouTube.

When We All Shop Small, It Will Be HUGE!

Brown saw a way to use this video to expand the traditional after Thanksgiving “Black Friday” shopping in downtown Quincy by teaming up with the American Express Small Business Saturday promotion in 2011.

Using the image campaign video as a base, Brown worked with the producer to edit the message down to 30 seconds and bought 65 TV ad spots between November 14th and 26th to promote Small Business Saturday for downtown merchants. Ads were purchased on eight different cable TV stations that fit the consumer profiles of downtown shoppers.

To complement the TV ad buy, HQBD also bought newspaper wrappers for the biggest newspaper ad day of the year—the day before Thanksgiving. This wrapper reiterated the TV ad slogan, “When we all shop small, it will be HUGE!” Seventeen downtown retailers offered specials and discounts on the newspaper wrapper, which drove more shoppers into their stores. The Small Business Saturday ad purchase cost just $550 for 65 spots, but the buzz from merchants, shoppers, and local residents still lingers.

To learn more about how Illinois has reinvigorated its Main Street program and take a look at the distinctive ways other Illinois Main street communities are revitalizing their downtowns, from creating "Curb Appeal" in Carbondale to capitalizing on heritage tourism in Pontiac, check out the current issue of Main Street Now.