I've heard a lot about how downtown businesses are handling the downward spiral in the economy and very little about how they're getting ready for the eventual rebound.
There's no question consumer behavior has changed. People are spending less and price shopping while experts predict this will become the new norm. So, if those conditions await us on the other side of the recession, how should we be adjusting our actions now?
First, our downtown, which is an attraction in itself, will remain as the most intact shopping area in the county. This is because downtown Durango is not over-occupied with chain stores that can pull out quickly and leave gaping holes. As retail will continue to shrink, the places most vulnerable to corporate store closings will be the outlying strip centers and large malls. Communities with a downtown heart and soul like Durango (the result of having a strong concentration of smaller independent businesses), will suffer the least. Sure, at the moment downtown has several empty storefronts, but many businesses have invested in upgrades, and several new stores have opened.
Downtown businesses can't always compete on price. But as conditions continue, some downtown businesses are now introducing win-win discounting that allows them to keep cash flowing and still attract price-conscience customers. Look for promotions that offer "Buy one, get the second at a discount," or "buy one and receive a discount for the next visit." This kind of pricing is a more preferable strategy in a down market than offering "50 percent off." What downtown retailers don't want is to turn downtown into a full-time discount district. Factor in the historic setting, service and economic benefits of shopping local, and downtown wins every time. Of course, friendly faces and keeping customers happy have never been more important than now.
In these tough times, a challenge for the small downtown retailer, property owner, business promotion organization like the Business Improvement District, and municipality is to stay committed. Long-term health and survival depends on continued investment in capital improvements, marketing and promotions. The city is working on the multi-modal transit center, improving access into downtown (Florida Road project), upgrading downtown streetscape and planning a parking structure. At the same time, significant private investment continues on the 700 and 800 blocks, as well as with the Railroad Square Hotel & Conference Center project.
Getting ready for the eventual boom requires that we maintain a mantra of "business as usual." Those who stand the most to lose will need to continue to provide active leadership. Property owners and businesses must continue to contribute through memberships and self-assessment in organized groups (such as the Durango Chamber of Commerce and BID) to host events and maintain marketing programs. Restaurants, retailers and merchants must keep service levels high and offer win-win pricing. Consumers must choose to shop local and support our community's core.
This economy is temporary. In many ways, the question is not, "How are you handling the ride down?" It is, "Are you ready for the ride back up?"
Bob Kunkel is special events and business coordinator for Durango's Central Business District.