Results from real people, real towns

Has anyone tried these ideas out? Does this stuff really work?

It’s natural to want to know if other people in other communities have been successful with the SaveYour.Town ideas and the Idea Friendly Method. So we started this list to share with you.

Coffee Anyone?

Testing your product and Trying your market

coffee shop in Paulding OH

Deb says:

I visited Paulding, Ohio in early 2019 on a Embedded Community Experience. They had an empty building owner who also worked full time. He wanted to open a coffee shop in his building. We talked about starting small, testing the market out and see if people would support it. One older gentleman at the table wanted to volunteer to be there when the owner couldn’t be. Today, one year later the coffee shop has grown. The owner’s wife is working there. The volunteer still comes by. They use part of the space as a rental for events like birthday parties, smaller meetings, and gatherings of all sorts. This Idea Friendly Method worked very well for them. They grew along with their customers!

Where are they one year later? 

Embedded Community Experience in Columbiana, Ohio

Visit by Deb in February 2019.

Columbiana, Ohio is a small town Deb visited in February 2019 for an Embedded Community Experience. 6,400 people live in the town Harvey Firestone called home oh so many years ago.

  • One focus was on the downtown area because there quite a few empty storefronts.
  • One owner of several buildings wanted to make downtown more entertainment focused, more places to eat and drink and be entertained, less retail.
  • They have three areas in town for retail, it’s called the Triangle. Downtown, Firestone Park and DutchHaus eating and shopping. 

Lance Willard, city manager and Tom Mackell of Firestone Farms accompanied Deb to most of the activities and visits. There were several other residents, business people and organizations that got involved as well. 

In the past year, Columbiana has made leaps and bounds in their pursuit of becoming a friendlier town. Here are just a few of their results.

  1. All of the buildings downtown are filled, except one. There are more restaurants than antique stores, and the antique stores that are there have created an inviting place to come experience their wares.
  2. Firestone Park is now a vibrant shopping and eating area, and the stores are all filled. It used to be an empty, forlorn piece of land on the edge of town. 
  3. A local real estate developer offers free rent for a year to entrepreneurs who don’t have the wherewithal to get started. This is a town that believes entrepreneurs are the new inventors and innovators.
  4. One local woman donated 4 million dollars to the park for perpetuity. The park is done, with 6 waterfalls. It was a muddy hole in the ground a year ago. This park is located one block from downtown. Now visitors can eat, drink, shop and relax in this welcoming park.
  5. Columbiana was nominated by a citizen as the Nicest Place in Ohio. It was a contest where people had to vote to win. During every summer and fall event there were booths set up in the middle of the party where people could vote for their town. They did win the title Nicest Place in Ohio. Then they went on to be judged by a panel for the nicest place in America. They won that too!
  6. Hallmark voted Columbiana the 19th nicest place to celebrate Christmas.
  7. TOP 10 Advertising voted Birdfish Brewing Co. as the seventh best bar and pub in Northeast Ohio. Dutch Haus Bakery is #1 bakery and Salon Anthurium made top #1 salon. The salon just recently opened, and their loyal customers brought them to first place.

This community took to heart all the conversations Deb started when she asked them what they wanted. One suggestion was to take pride in their town. They now realize they are responsible for sharing that pride with others. The townspeople are actively involved in their community, and make the magic happen. 

Welcome to Columbiana, an Idea Friendly Town.

1 Year of progress in business and art

Colfax, Washington, population 2,800

Visit by Becky August 2018, update September 2019

Sarah McKnight just told me all about the progress they’ve made in the past year in Colfax, Washington. Lots of the ideas we talked about in August last year are now reality!

The new Colfax Mercantile Store is a shared building with room for 8 to 10 new vendors. They’re full up and have a waiting list! There’s women’s clothes, handcrafted soaps, and fun upcycled stuff (like a guitar wall clock). The commercial kitchen means they also have a cookie baker and a frozen yogurt place inside the Mercantile! The Chamber and downtown group also have their offices in there.

Each vendor works a set number of hours a week at the counter making sales for everyone.

You know how often we talk about shared retail spaces, and Colfax has really done well with theirs in just one year!

All that activity around the Mercantile has started even more good things.

Another local business is working on remodeling a double storefront building, so they can step up from their current single storefront. Inspired by the success of the Mercantile, they’re thinking of making their old building into a new shared space. Hey, there is a waiting list at the Merc, so it sounds promising!

There are a bunch of additional new businesses in the past year: a coffee roaster, a plant store that also started a botany club (smart!), a branch office of a veterinarian, a new restaurant, a new vintage place, the expansion of an existing retailer, and even more.

If you’re struggling to get businesses to be open weekends, you’ll love hearing that the Mercantile, the coffee roaster, the plant store and the new restaurant are open weekends! That helps apply a little positive peer pressure to get other businesses open weekends.

Now let’s talk art!

Colfax already has an active arts group. Occasionally, they will create “crack art” — cute tiny paintings that incorporate a crack in the sidewalk, or a corner of a building or electrical conduits. Any town could copy this idea.

Electrical conduits are necessary, but they don’t have to stay plain. Local artists dressed these pipes up as a choir. Photo courtesy of Sarah McKnight.

When I tour any downtown, I’m always looking at easy ways to add more color and art. It shows activity and life and just makes it more pleasant to live in your town. Building on suggestions we all brainstormed up while I was there, Colfax has new murals and new fishes!

A long stretch of chain link fence surrounding a concrete waterway runs alongside downtown ColfaxNow it has fishes! During the tour, we brainstormed for ways to dress up that concrete and the chain link. Inspired by a similar set seen in another town, they involved the whole community painting fishes, then hung them on the fence, even across the bridge. It’s a great step, and one they can keep building on.

They did a future mural! We talked about how murals don’t have to show just history; they can show the future, too. Yes your town has a past, but it also has a future. Colfax took that idea and now it has a new robot mural! It’s kind of a retro future take on American Gothic with robots set in a very Palouse landscape.

Their existing 1880s history mural looked a little lonely, surrounded by a big stretch of blank wall, and we talked about adding more art there. They added a bright new colorful design all the way across, framing the existing mural.

Plus there’s a new happiness mural. Both of these feel contemporary and show off their beautiful natural surroundings. They say the Palouse region is the American Tuscany, full of rolling hills, farm fields and wildflowers.

That’s a lot of new color in one year! Imagine residents seeing all this activity downtown, all the life and interest from the new paint and the new businesses. You know this builds momentum that will carry forward.

I’m so proud of everything the people of Colfax have accomplished and will continue to accomplish.

When you bring me to town, we unleash the energy you’ve built up. It’s not an accident this all happened in one year. The people of Colfax used my visit as a trigger to make good things happen now. What will you use as a trigger in your town?

Dressing Up the Negatives

Warren County, Iowa

Shared by Lorin Ditzler, December 2019

A big group of our volunteers met last week and watched clips from your Embedded Community Experience video and we were inspired by what we heard! The message was particularly relevant to a project we are working on to “dress up our negatives.”

In one of our communities, the town square right now is a big construction site – the County courthouse in the center of it has been torn down and the construction of the new one is going to take years. So we thought: let’s use this giant fence as a big canvas to celebrate our community! We have received permission to cover the fence with banners/fence wrap that have pictures that tell the story of our County, and possibly some murals or other art as well. We are hoping to “give everyone small but meaningful ways to participate” by reserving portions of the fence for various volunteer groups and artists to add to it in their own way.

I also just heard from one of our volunteers that after seeing the idea in the video about doing a temporary chalk mural, she is going to incorporate a chalk art contest into one of our annual events: a series of “front porch” gatherings across the community. I love the idea of finding ways to incorporate public art in small ways into our other programs.

I also continue to promote the “consensus through action” philosophy – as we look ahead to 2020, our committees are doing a bit of strategic planning, but with the perspective that any “plan” is simply a collection of possibilities, and our priorities will not truly emerge until we see which “actions people are excited enough to take.” We go where the passion is!

Good Works in Progress

Twisp, Washington, population 900

Visit by Becky, October 2019

Shared by Don Linnertz, Executive Director, TwispWorks, December 2019

Lots of goodness here in Twisp since you visited.  Our winter [utility pole] banners with the new Twisp logo are up.  This summer we’ll switch to the summer banners and incorporate a call for artists to design half of the banners.  We’re planning a Tour of Empty Buildings for March 2020 with the Entrepreneurship class at the high school creating and presenting ideas for new businesses in those locations as part of their class, a renewed discussion about the need for affordable rentals in the Methow Valley, etc.  Thanks for your encouragement and motivation!

Learning Block Studios: One building, lots of businesses

Gordo, Alabama, population 3,500

Shared by Tracey Homan, inspired by our email newsletters August 2019

I just wanted to tell you how much your news letters have inspired me and what I have done with your ideas. I live in a small town of 3500 people about 26 miles west of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Our Main Street downtown has mostly boarded up stores with owners from out of town that use the space as storage. We have a little used book store run by the mayor, a flower shop, a pest control business, a thrift store, and 3 banks Within 6 months the new bypass will open and go around our town.

For the last 12 years I have driven 45 minutes to my job on the other side of Tuscaloosa everyday. My boss has been thinking of retiring so I would drive and think about why do I want to do for the rest of my life. That’s where your newsletters gave me inspiration along with Pinterest.

In June, I opened up Learning Block Studio – we teach art, music, dance, fitness, baton, sewing and have a Makers Market for people to sell there products. We have 4 vendors in the market at this time.  My teachers are paid on a commission basis so the more classes they introduce the more money they make. Since I still have my day job, I have a retired lady that is a widow running my office, and stay at home moms teaching art and music, college students teaching fitness, baton and a recent college graduate that was on the dance team at the University of Alabama that wants to eventually own her own dance studio. All these people live in our little community.

By using what I have learned from you, I have made my Learning  Block a place where you can rent space to tryout your business ideas and hopefully grow to open your own business in our town. I hope the dance class grow so much that a new studio will be necessary for our dance teacher to open her own studio. At that point the baton and fitness will build up enough to take up the time spots Dance was in.

We also had a large room on the end of our building that had been a pharmacy so we turned that space into a rental space – right now we rent it to a relative that has opened a snowball and ice cream business using the drive up window for walk up customers. They will change their menu to in the fall to sell soups and coffees.  I hope they will grow enough where they will move own to there own building too. Then I will use that space for the birthday parties that our art and dance teachers have started doing.

We haven’t had much interest from our town government but they will come around to our way of doing business – only because they want to know what people are talking about.  We will win them over!!

This has been so exciting to watch play out – people start sharing ideas and new ideas start building. Our customers and students come up with ideas making it so much fun. Our motto is ‘We want to teach what you want to learn’.

Thank you again for doing what y’all do – you are making a difference!!!

6 new businesses in 60 days

Paulding, Ohio, population 3,600

Visit by Deb, April 2019

Economic Development Director Jerry Zielke said they started six new business in the sixty days following Deb Brown’s visit.

Decorated chain link fence

Castle Rock, Washington, population 2,000

Visit by Becky, January 2019

When I visited downtown Castle Rock, we stopped at this bare chain link fence. The hardware store/lumber yard needs security for their materials stored here. But it doesn’t have to be quite so unwelcoming!

They already had student art squares that weren’t really visible, and I suggested moving a few. Soon, Nancy Chennault sent these photos of the students installing lots of new art squares including a big arrow pointing to the art, nature and museum area nearby.

Tour of Empty Buildings

Oglesby, Illinois, population 3,800

Shared by Shug Grosenbach, North Central IL Council of Governments

We thought at first we would only have people that wanted to see the buildingss because of curiosity, but we had people that are very interested in moving their business to Oglesby or starting a new one. The outcome is exactly what we wanted.

Thanks for the great idea. Our group is thinking of doing this again in the spring when the weather is warmer to keep interest in Oglesby moving forward.

From fatalistic to optimistic because of SaveYour.Town videos

Morris, Minnesota, population 5,300

Shared by Sherri Booms Holm, August 2018

Today I shared The Future of Retail video with retailers in the city of Morris, MN. We had a great conversation after the video, with many people inspired to try one or more of the ideas. One business owner admitted that he has been promoting his business the same way for 25 years and maybe it was time to change! He was also the one who said, upon leaving: “An hour ago I was fatalistic, now I’m hopeful.” I will definitely follow up with them to see what happens! Thank you for this video, which is giving people hope!

Kids create a Cozy Cabin Christmas

Three new businesses as a result

Miller, South Dakota, population 1,500

Inspired by our presentation, updates from 2017 and 2018

When Deb Brown and Becky McCray spoke at the RuralX Summit, one of the ideas we mentioned was the tiny business village, where businesses pop up inside of storage sheds in Tionesta, Pennsylvania.

Dylan Fulton and Camden Breitling, high school students from Miller, South Dakota, heard that idea and ran with it. Together with some supportive adults including Tammy Caffee, they planned and held an event called Cozy Cabin Christmas. They convinced a storage shed retailer to play host to four temporary businesses during their community’s month-long Christmas on the Prairie celebration.

It was a success, with lots of shoppers and plenty of community building as well. They learned it was really cold in December, so they did it again in summer and called it Christmas in July. It’s still alive and fast becoming a tradition in Miller.

As of 2018, three of the temporary businesses had stepped up to full time businesses.