Vital downtown important to community growth
Nestled between an old-fashioned hardware store and a store that sells Indonesian items is Kara's Country Cottage in Roachdale.
For over nine years owner Kara MaGill has been passing out samples of her dips, blowing up balloon bouquets and selling her country-style crafts.
The store is filled with charming gifts including Christmas ornaments, Boyd's, Donna Sharp purses and accessories, Yankee candles, and treasures of all kinds.
Better yet is the warm reception and friendly, helpful service offered to everyone who enters this delightful store.
MaGill's daughter Melissa often works in the store alongside her mother. The warmth and fun the two share is contagious and those who enter the shop can't help but feel the joy.
Both mother and daughter say they have begun to see a small decline in sales. This is due, perhaps, partly to the economy and the slight decline in population in Roachdale.
Like many small towns, the little burg is seeing business go to some of the bigger superstores and malls located in larger towns like Avon and Plainfield.
Vital, hospitable and active downtowns provide communities with a source of pride and a location for congregating, socializing and dealing with community affairs say experts.
Towns without functioning downtowns become a collection of domiciles, housing people who work, shop, socialize and seek entertainment elsewhere.
"These places may continue to be recognized as towns by mapmakers, but they are not the same kind of community we commonly associate with small towns. The whole community is affected by the nature of the downtown. It is for these reasons that downtown revitalization should concern the whole community and not just the local business owners," says Terry L. Besser, Assistant Professor and Extension Sociologist at Iowa State University.
A study at Iowa State University revealed that in the average small town, 47 percent of employed people work in another town, 50 percent shop someplace else for daily needs, 73 percent go to another town for entertainment, and almost nine out of 10 of them shop elsewhere for big ticket items.
"Residents have the choice of doing business in their home town, their work town, towns conveniently located in between or in a larger adjoining metropolitan area. Where they shop will be determined by a combination of convenience, product mix, price, service and shopping atmosphere," says Besser.
Hawaii State Senator Shan S. Tsutsui wrote in his column "Viewpoint" in The Maui News about the importance of people working together to find the best ways to shape and improve their communities.
"Local businesses love to serve our residents and we should make an effort to enjoy our local gems," wrote Tsutsui.
He talked in his article about Buy Local stickers.
"If we all do our part by making a willing commitment to thinking and buying locally, the larger implications become evident. As economic concerns mount, there may be an understandable urge to shop online or at big box national chains to save a few dollars," he says.
Tsutsui claims every $100 spent at a national chain returns about $13 to the community.
"By comparison spending the same amount at locally owned businesses returns $45 to our economy," he said.
Tsutsui ends his article by suggesting we all make a conscious effort to invest in local businesses.
"We can help to offset the decrease in visitors and reignite consumer confidence. Working as a community, we can endure this downturn and emerge not only with greater prosperity and a stronger economy, but also with a renewed sense of what we can accomplish together," said Tsutsui.
This demise of downtown districts have caused merchants in Putnam County to look for ways to increase their business and bring customers back into the downtown area and community in general.
In Greencastle a group of merchants recently approached the Greencastle City Council asking them to consider the establishment of an economic improvement district in the downtown areas.
With the establishment of the district, property owners impose an assessment on themselves to raise funds.
These fees are collected through the tax system and used for things like tree care, flower planting, decorations, weed control and other beautification efforts.
Another group of citizens is part of a sustainability board looking at ways to increase and improve many areas of the community.
In Roachdale, a community effort called PRIDE (Preserving Roachdale's Identity Enthusiastically) is helping boost business by being the catalyst behind several community projects to improve life in he tiny town.
So far the group has spearheaded a festival and revival of a parade during the local VFW's Fish Fry. They are an integral part of the planning for the annual Christmas in Roachdale celebration and continue to support ideas and projects to keep business local.
We want the community's input and help in determining what we need and in finding ways to accomplish that. We hope everyone will come forward with ideas and help," said Bonnie Yahraus, spokesperson for PRIDE.
The result is a growing number of people participating and projects underway in the community.
In Bainbridge town council members discussed the demise of the Bon Ton Restaurant and the general loss of business in the downtown area. Many residents feel too many buildings in this area have been converted to apartments, leaving little space for commerce.
Town Marshal Rodney Fenwick told the board he felt people were shopping elsewhere.
"We tend to forget to take care of our own," Fenwick said. "People go to the big superstores in Avon and then eat there. We get busy and forget to take time to support local business."