This Summer the Farmers' Market will be doing everything that it can to help bring folks downtown on Saturdays. By connecting rural ag producers, craftsmen, and downtown businesses their success could send positive economic ripples across the entire county. The 1 year old market still has a long road ahead and will need every bit of help they can find. In case you are not aware, the market is a nonprofit community development organization.
The new art/business nonprofit CREATE!Conway will continue to promote 1st Saturday Art Walks in the Historic District. With a lunch money budget and the loss of the last dedicated art gallery, it will have it's work cut out for it this Summer. Luckily it's a simple concept. Business owners invite artists and musicians in to their shops, and Create! invites customers to come enjoy it all. It's not a huge deal, but it works. Plain and simple, customer counts are always higher on 1st Saturday Art Walks.
So when the City of Conway Tourism Committee decided to kick-start a new tourism promotion it was only natural that they choose Saturdays, but they didn't. Instead they picked Thursday nights. I'm not sure of the logic, but I think it went something like this:
Question - What day could we promote that would have the greatest positive impact on the most businesses?
My Answer - That would be Saturday, it would help every retailer, restaurant, and the Farmers Market. Most Saturdays are still fairly weak downtown. If we can improve the traditional business hours, then merchants would have the financial padding to extend hours elsewhere.
Committee - We'll pick Thursday after 6pm. Most retailers will be closed, it won't help the farmers' market, and even a couple restaurants will be closed. If any of those businesses want to participate, they'll do so at a sacrifice to their family time or increased labor costs. When no one shows up we can blame the merchants for not staying open. Then we can use our famous blanket statement: "we tried but, the merchants didn't support us."
Question - What day would we get the best return on investment?
My Answer - Everyone knows that Saturday is the traditional family shopping day. If you spend the same amount on promotions, Saturday will typically yield twice as many participants as any other day. People look for something to do on Saturday, let's make Conway a Saturday option.
Committee - We'll pick Thursday. Less turnout and more work, plus people will have trouble remembering which weekday it is that we're promoting.
Question - Which day would allow us to combine our efforts with those of other intiatives currently trying to promote tourism in Conway?
My Answer - Saturday would be perfect. During all the bickering an infighting that has occurred for the past few years the City has claimed the position of neutral mediator. The City has always maintained that they only wish everyone would work together. We could use festive Saturday promotions as an opportunity to bring everyone together to work towards a common goal.
Committee - We just say that, but we really mean everyone should work under us. You see, if we have it on Thursday, we can ask Barb Streeter to help book musicians and artists. Then, because we know that she's currently over scheduled due to running 2 businesses, and a monthly art walk etc., when she declines, we can say she's refusing to cooperate again. Plus, if there are good things already started on Saturdays we would be in the role of helping others, that's not our gig. We lead, we get hard working volunteers, and then we drive the golf carts; that's how we roll.
Question- We paid a consulting firm to help us with tourism and business development in Conway. One of their recommendations was to encourage downtown businesses to extend their hours. What day should we focus on in order to have them take baby steps towards extended hours?
My Answer- That's easy, it's Saturday. Most businesses are currently open 10-5 M-F and 10-3 on Saturday. If they saw other businesses profiting by staying open a couple more hours on Saturday they may be inclined to do so as well. The logical baby step would be to have everyone open until at least 5pm on Saturday. A few retailers are already open until 5, so you would only need to focus on a few holdouts. If it succeeded you may be able to go for more hours in the Fall. The recommendations from consultants specifically mentioned Saturday and Sunday.
Committee- Thursday! It's just so random, and random is the hip thing these days. If folks don't like it, what can we do about it?
Don't get me wrong, I'm not working against Thursday nights festivities. I'll do what I can to assist. I hear it's called a Thursday Night Crawl or something like that. Sounds like a bar hopping event that has worked well in other cities. And I'm sure if done well, the bars and restaraunts could benefit. Just don't tell me that it is a good way to get retailers to extend their hours. And don't tell me that it is the best that they could come up with. This idea has been tossed around for years from Main Street to Create! and now the committee will pick-up and run with a tired idea that other groups had been unable to gain much support for.
When folks get serious about working together they will stop saying it and start doing it. When that happens I promise that I'll let you know. Until then I'll just keep letting you know what is not happening.
Full Disclosure: I was invited to the Tourism Committee, but uninvited 5 minutes before it started. We were to discuss how to work together, but I guess it didn't workout that time either. It's a long, but hugely entertaining story that I just may share someday.