Network Notes

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Download Main Street Now PDF 2010/05_06

"Network Notes" is compiled and written monthly by Andrea L. Dono. If you have interesting projects or ideas you would like to share, e-mail andrea_dono@nthp.org.

Small Business Report

We know that small businesses run America. Therefore, it is particularly troubling to see a recent report by the Congressional Oversight Panel ("Bailout Central") that acknowledges TARP's inability to foster small business lending and suggests that perhaps the government's efforts to stabilize the banking industry won't trickle down to the little guys. Between April and November 2009, 22 of our largest banks reduced average small businesses loans by 4.6 percent. The Panel is certain that the Treasury's efforts haven't helped small business owners either.

Well, if Congress and the Treasury are no help, who is? The New Rules Project has compiled a list of the kinds of policies and strategies that can help new and expanding small businesses (see www.newrules.org/retail/rules/financing-local-businesses). The list includes:

  • Turning to smaller local banks and starting a local banking campaign in your community;
  • Exploring Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), which are mission-driven financial institutions that provide services to people and communities underserved by traditional financial institutions;
  • Expanding Small Business Administration loan guarantees;
  • Nurturing community-owned businesses like the ones discussed in the previous issue of Main Street Now; and
  • Developing Local Business Financing Initiatives, modeled on the Food Trust's Fresh Food Financing Initiative, to fund a new generation of locally owned neighborhood and downtown businesses that can provide essential goods and services. Want to know more about grant and loan programs that entice grocers to open stores in underserved areas – read on.

Food Stuff

I've been hearing more and more about the Food Trust lately, so I decided to check it out. Based in Pennsylvania and charged with the mission of ensuring everyone access to affordable, nutritious food, the group has a wide range of programs – one of which is the aforementioned Fresh Food Financing Initiative.

Working with the State of Pennsylvania and various other partners, the initiative, funded with $120 million, meets the financing requirements of supermarket operators so they can open in underserved communities where infrastructure costs and credit needs cannot be filled solely by conventional financial institutions. For-profit and non-profit entities in communities that can demonstrate a need can apply for loans or grants to cover costs associated with opening a grocery –  pre-development work to assess project feasibility, land assembly and infrastructure improvement, soft costs, and construction. This is an interesting model that enables public-private partnerships to bring fresh food into communities with few options. Read the program guidelines.

Here's a virtual solution for food deserts: The Baltimore City Health Department has launched the Virtual Supermarket Project in East Baltimore and Pigtown (a Main Street community) to bring fresh, healthy food to areas that need it. Using computers at their local libraries, patrons shop online for groceries, which are delivered to that library the next day. Grocers can keep costs down because they consolidate delivery times and drop-off locations.

If you want to talk about new uses for old buildings, how about Sweet Water Organics' adaptive reuse of a downtown factory in Milwaukee as a hydroponic fish hatchery and farm. Since yellow perch are no longer teeming in Lake Michigan, they are being raised inside a building. What was once an abandoned industrial building is now an organic indoor farm – the fish waste is a natural fertilizer for the indoor crops, and the greens act as a water filter. What a cool way to bring jobs, preservation, and protein to the downtown.

Planning a new farmers market or looking to improve the one you already have? Check out the Farmers Market Coalition's market manager training manual. It's got sample policies, checklists, and procedures that anyone can use. Sure, it was written specifically for its New York audience, but there is much to glean from this resource.

No More Ill Communication

Introverts are people, too! says Jennifer Kahnweiler in her May 14, 2010, Wall Street Journal article, "How to Manage an Introvert." These personality types, says Kahnweiler, are folks who think before they speak (which isn't a bad idea for all of us to consider). When communicating with them one-on-one or during meetings, you need to adjust your style. First of all, slow down and don't try to fill up pauses while an introvert is thinking about how to respond. Secondly, give them a break; don't catch them off-guard with surprise phone calls or visits – use e-mail instead. Thirdly, don't let others talk over them. For example, in meetings there are always conversation hogs. But if you give everyone 10 tokens and force them to use a token each time they speak, your introverts will get a chance to speak up and share their good ideas.

Open Forum online has some good tips for speaking up in appropriate ways in "The Power to Get More of What You Want: 5 Steps to Assertiveness" by Scott Halford. He's got some good one-liners to help you be assertive. He advises people to employ the power of "no" in response to unreasonable requests by saying, "That's not going to work for me." Say, "That feels unfair to me," when someone is stepping on your toes. Networking can be hard for some people, but it can be as simple as saying, "I was thinking about you today and just wanted to reach out and say hi." State your opinions by beginning with, "Here's what I think."

Business Notes

Happy hour isn't just about drink specials. Retailers in India are taking a cue from bars by having happy hour specials to get shoppers in stores during slower times. A children's apparel shop, for example, discounts certain items by 20 percent between 10 am and noon. In a LiveMint blog post ("In a Bid to Boost Sales, Retailers Turn to 'Happy Hour' Discounts"), Sapna Agarwal and Gouri Shah report that these promotions tend to attract new customers who might not have come into the store otherwise. Often, too, people purchase other things at full price while they are there.

Main Street Newnan: A Parking Story

By Kathryn Craig

One of the most trying challenges for many Main Street programs is handling parking. To prevent parking problems, whether real or perceived, from keeping people out of downtown, some Main Street programs have devised creative ways to deal with the issue.

Main Street Newnan (Ga.) has found a creative solution to prevent employees of downtown businesses from parking in spaces intended for customers. Along the downtown square, employees often park in two-hour spots and avoid getting tickets by moving their cars every two hours. Because ticketing was not an effective solution, Linda Kee, director of Main Street Newman, decided that they should experiment with other tactics.

"Linda noticed one day that some employees were parking in nearby lots and decided we should do something nice for them," says Main Street Event Coordinator Tina Darby. The Main Street program turned to positive reinforcement to encourage employees to free up the two-hour parking spots for customers.

Kee and Darby began their effort by leaving homemade hot chocolate mix and thank-you notes that read "Your contribution does not go unnoticed!" on the vehicles parked in the lot. The pair plans to continue leaving surprises on vehicles.

"[The surprise] will always be something with some thought behind it. We put time into this, it's truly that important to us. Until the people who work downtown take responsibility to park off the square, we can't do away with two-hour parking," Kee told the Times-Herald. Kee occasionally spends her evenings baking chocolate chip cookies to make sure they have something to distribute with the thank-you notes.

In addition to rewarding employees who are making an effort to free up downtown parking spaces, Main Street Newnan is discussing additional parking solutions. Currently, city council is discussing an idea that would provide businesses with tokens they can give to customers if they want to shop for more than two hours. The token would have the Main Street logo on it, and shoppers can display it in their cars as a signal to the parking enforcement staff not to ticket the vehicle.

Kee realizes that her effort is "not big enough to make someone suddenly start parking off the square," but it has provoked some buzz about the parking issue throughout the downtown. Although this is a new endeavor, Main Street Newnan has already received positive feedback for its attempt to find a parking solution.

Reduced Commercial Rent Program Aids Local Businesses

By Tom Neeley

Iron Mountain (Mich.) Main Street has partnered with local building owners to offer the limited-time "Iron Mountain Free Rent Business Plan Challenge," which couples free and reduced rent with business promotion assistance to fill some of the town's commercial vacancies.

With a two-year lease, the program offers new tenants the first six months of occupancy rent free, followed by six months of rent at 33 percent, then the next six months of rent at 66 percent.  During the final six months of the lease, the tenant pays the full rent. Tenants accepted into the promotion still pay utilities, sales tax, and licensing fees. Although other programs provide subsidized rent directly through local Main Street or Downtown Development Association budgets, Iron Mountain Main Street's program asks participating building owners to voluntarily offer rent reductions.

In addition to incentivizing occupancy of spaces that are challenging to rent – basement spaces, offices, and a 3,600-square-foot space until recently occupied by a restaurant – the program is designed to spur entrepreneurship as well. Iron Mountain Main Street and affiliated partners have coupled the promotion with assistance in marketing, design of building improvements, window displays, business plans, and relocation.

Getting building owners to participate in the program was as simple as picking up the phone.

"The building owners were very positive," says Iron Mountain Main Street Executive Director Jonathan Ringel. "They said they would rather offer free and reduced rent for a while and open up an opportunity for a successful business and entrepreneur than have an empty space. They were more than willing to do it."

The program has generated positive local publicity and some interest from prospective businesses.

Twitter Your Way: A Network of Possibilities

By Christine Madrid French

Twitter is a real-time example of the "six degrees of separation" theory positing that connections can be drawn between everyone on earth with relatively few steps. Employed strategically, this online social media tool can link you to new networks of people who are interested in preservation, planning, and design. It is free to sign up and the time required is low compared with other methods of marketing. The return on this investment can be a positive one: The 2010 Social Media Marketing Industry Report found that the primary benefit of social media campaigns is an increase in exposure and outreach opportunities. Respondents in a related survey found that using these online outlets produced new business partnerships — prospects many nonprofit organizations need in order to survive these lean times.

Sparking conversations is the key to developing relationships through social media. At the start of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Modernism + Recent Past Program a year ago, I determined that Twitter and Facebook provided the best opportunities for generating new discussions about preserving buildings and landscapes.

The first challenge was finding an online "address." The beauty of social media lies in its brevity, and that begins with the naming of your site. Thus, TrustModern was born. I began posting under that name in September 2009 and have since welcomed more than 800 people and organizations as "followers" on Twitter – about 75 percent from the U.S. and the rest from countries across the globe.

We have had surprising success with our inaugural effort. In January, editors of the popular urban planning website Planetizen named TrustModern one of 11 top nonprofit urban planning Twitter feeds.

Twitter also served as a key component of our JetModern program. Using a 30-day All You Can Jet Pass offered by JetBlue, Seth Tinkham, an independent preservation planner, traveled to 11 states to view Mid-Century Modern sites. In a combined effort, our teams in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco tweeted about his progress across the country and encouraged people at a number of sites to "tweet-up," the name for in-person meetings of followers. The posts generated by people traveling on and tweeting about the jet pass program quickly caught the attention of JetBlue, which responded brilliantly by re-tweeting certain messages to its million-plus followers. For a brief time, TrustModern/JetModern was visible to this enormous audience for the relatively small cost of a travel subsidy for Tinkham.

Joel Comm, author of Twitter Power, warns people to avoid straight "broadcast" tweets by encouraging discussions among followers, which then turn into "viral ads" for your posts. We have developed a similar strategy that is divided into three parts. I try to post between three to six messages (or tweets) each day, with one-third devoted to news stories appropriate to our efforts (including a shortened url or link), one-third to personalized messages, and one-third to "re-tweets" or postings of other people's messages. In the last two categories of posts, I integrate discussion points and encourage debate among our followers.

As with all open networking sites, Twitter users must double-check and edit out (block) "followers" who are not appropriate to the intent of the site. Twitter itself keeps a tight lid on spammers, but occasionally sites are co-opted by intruder messages. These cases are rare, however.

One of the many benefits of our new interconnected world is the realization that our primary preservation concerns are shared by communities across the globe. Twitter helps you find these like-minded folks and share your stories. We welcome you to join us in this new network of possibilities.

How-To Hints

Twitter-Specific Abbreviations to Know:

  • @ = The user "address," such as @TrustModern or @PreservationNation.
  • # = A hashtag is used for reference. For instance, a collection of people at a conference or event will include the same hashtag in their postings so that users can find and contact each other, such as #NTHP2010 for our upcoming conference.
  • # FF = Follow Friday. Twitter end-of-work-week tradition, when people post a list of other people they think you should follow, and we all make more friends.
  • Third-Party Twitter Sites: The two third-party sites I use the most are hootsuite.com (which offers tools to manage multiple accounts, track statistics, and even automate your tweets to post when you are otherwise occupied) and search.twitter.com (to look for specific topics on Twitter). Mashable.com is the go-to social media guide online, with "Guide Books" for Twitter and Facebook targeted to both the novice and more seasoned user, including "Best Practices for Brands" and "Tips for Building Your Twitter Community."
  • URL Shortening: With only 145 characters available for each message, a long url or link will leave you little space for additional comments. Hootsuite.com and tinyurl.com are two sites that offer a free url shortening service. Copy and paste the long url into one box and a shortened version will appear in another box that you can cut and paste into your tweet.

Christine Madrid French is director of the National Trust's Modernism + Recent Past Program, housed in its Western Office. Contact her at christine_french@nthp.org. For more information, follow www.twitter.com/trustmodern and visit www.PreservationNation.org/trustmodern. Reprinted with permission from the National Trust for Historic Preservation's June 2010 issue of Forum News, Vol. 16, No. 10.

Around the Network

A 2005 GAMSA winner, the Downtown Frederick (Md.) Partnership now lists dog-friendly shops and cafés that allow pups on leashes into their establishments. People love going places with their dogs, so this online business directory is a great tool for attracting these customers downtown. 

Another cool business-supporting idea in Frederick was its first Foursquare Day Scavenger Hunt, which was held on April 16. To be eligible to win, participants had to visit six of 12 locations, take a specific picture, then have the photographs verified. Once verified, contestants were entered into a drawing for a basket of Frederick-related goodies including a $50.00 Downtown Frederick Gift Card.

Sites on the scavenger hunt ranged from small businesses to community institutions:

  • The Delaplaine Visual Arts Eduction Center. Find the butler and take his picture.
  • Dancing Bear Toys. Look for that sneaky sock monkey and snap a shot of him.
  • Perfect Truffle. Get a picture of the chocolaty goodness of a truffle.

Thanks to a grant, the Old Town Commercial Association in Lansing, Michigan, has four new bicycles that can be checked out for public use.  Bikers just need to leave their ID, and they can cruise around downtown all day.

Rehoboth Beach Main Street (RBMS) in Delaware, a 2009 GAMSA winner, is teaming up with artists to turn the empty windows of vacant downtown buildings into attractive walk-by art installations. The brown paper covering the windows of the empty Cultured Pearl building has been taken down and now features a beautiful beach scene created by artist Chad Tylecki and Prudential Gallo Realty. Another window project brought paintings of the surf by artist Angelica Clemmer to a corner building. Jenny Barger, executive administrator of RBMS, says the intention behind this new initiative is "not only to bring beauty to empty windows, but to attract potential tenants to the property and encourage artistic expression in the community. It is absolutely worth a trip to Wilmington Avenue and First Street Station in Downtown Rehoboth Beach to view this newly installed attraction."

Waycross (Ga.) Main Street has had enough of the Recession Grinch that Stole Christmas. Budget cuts have kept downtown mostly dark during the festive holiday months so the group launched a fund raiser that collected more than $40,000 to buy new decorations – many of which cost $300 each. From six-foot-tall candy canes to LED lights, Waycross now has plenty of new decorations to adorn the downtown gazebo, light poles on five streets, and city park trees. They were even able to buy a 10-foot tree for community members to gather around during the holidays. The donation campaign ran from March to May and contributions came in a variety of ways:

  • Some employees pooled their cash while other businesses sponsored the purchase of a specific decoration;
  • An online community board brought in $7,000;
  • A restaurant manager gave $100 from a week's collection of change;
  • Each city and county commissioner purchased an item; and
  • School kids raised money by giving a $1 in exchange for the privilege of wearing a hat in class.

As a result, the community is very proud to have helped save Christmas and downtown will sparkle once again come wintertime.

Keep a look out for some new friends on the Main Street Network List Serve. Minnesota Main Street is accepting applications for its first round of its local Main Street communities. We're looking forward to welcoming these new Main Street ("Grasshopper") programs. If you'd like to join the list serve, too, follow the links from www.mainstreet.org in the Members Area. It's a great place to network with your fellow revitalization colleagues as well as to ask and give advice.