Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

On the other hand: counter programming can be too much of a good thing | North Park San Diego and Small Business Saturday

One of the reasons that I don't tend to apply for Main Street commercial district revitalization management positions (although I do from time to time) is that rather than be high level planning and community economic development jobs, they are mostly about events development and programming.

It's not that I don't like events and programming, and I really like doing marketing and promotion, but that's not the best use of my talents.  That being said, "anchor events" are an important element of commercial district marketing ("Events and programming in a systematic manner").

But one of the issues in events development and Main Street work is "knowing your limitations."  It's very difficult to counter program against strong inertia in favor of massively promoted events like the Super Bowl or shopping over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Once, I worked at a restaurant that wasn't a sports bar and they thought that by bringing in a bunch of extra tvs somehow people would come to the restaurant during the Super Bowl instead of going to a a more traditional sports bar where they were more accustomed to going out to watch a game over the course of the football season.  Needless to say, the promotion didn't work.

The lesson is to know what your opportunities are and aren't and act accordingly.  OTOH, as the quote in a recent Washington City Paper article ("What Are the Warning Signs That Your Favorite Restaurant Is About to Close?") makes clear, unwarranted optimism is endemic to restaurant proprietors:
"We believe the solution is one special away. One good night will trigger another good night."

North Park
I have followed the North Park Main Street program from the beginning of my involvement in Main Street work in 2002, because it is an urban program in a transitioning district of San Diego, and they were ahead of many programs in creating development and design guidelines, parking management initiatives (some didn't succeed but were truly innovative), etc.

(Plus they have the advantage of San Diego's insight in creating a funding stream for commercial district development (a fee on property) separate from the decision to create either a Business Improvement District or a "Main Street" program.  The former tend to be property owner centric while Main Street programs are business and community centric.  By contrast, in DC, Main Street programs don't have access to a regularized funding stream, unlike the city's BIDs.)

I got an email promotion from the Explore North Main Street tourism promotion element of the program, and today for Small  Business Saturday they have a full range of events.


While it's great that they have organized this, I think it's a mistake--too much of a good thing.

1.  As mentioned in the previous post, like with cities like Fredericksburg, Frederick, and Takoma Park, it's better to spread events out across the holiday season rather than cram them into one day.  Give people multiple reasons to visit your commercial district, not just one.  (This is the same criticism I have of DC's Art All Night initiative.)
Line up of Holiday Events, 12/2018, Main Street Takoma Park, Maryland
Main Street Takoma posts a banner showing their holiday events in Old Town and Takoma Junction.  Some cities use digital billboards to communicate similarly.

2.  People are out shopping over Thanksgiving.  Even if they are shopping at independents and traditional commercial districts more on Saturday, they are still likely to want to spend more time in stores than at events.

3.  On Thanksgiving weekend especially, they are likely to be wanting to go to multiple places and districts, not just one.  Although granted, San Diego has great weather. 

4.  Events keep people from shopping and buying.

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