When we learned that the Denton Building that housed two small businesses and apartments was identified as a site for judicial system expansion with demolition of this historic building as a possibility, we began advocating for this historic resource, the businesses, and the downtown residents. In January 2019, we took the campaign public with a community meeting that brought 200 concerned people together to learn more about the looming project and how we could avoid repeating mistakes of the past with downtown developments. Our advocacy effort is ongoing.
HDR also serves as the liaison between the City of Harrisonburg and the business community. In early 2019, we were busy understanding the new sign ordinance proposal so we could make recommendations and alert businesses of possible changes that could impact them. We worked with the city on looking for ways to ease downtown parking & found that swapping permit parking with 10-hour spaces was a quick opportunity to “find” more spaces in the decks. We are in constant communication with all stakeholders about trash pick up so we can maintain the best curb appeal we can.
Bricks & Clicks Grant and Technical Assistance Program
We know that online sales and a strong internet presence is the key to success for small businesses …And, we know that a really cool brick & mortar atmosphere builds buzz and sales. We launched Bricks & Clicks in 2018 to help small businesses become stronger in both their online & offline destinations through inspirational speakers, one-on-one technical assistance from experts, and mini-grants. We launched our second program with a focus on COVID-19 recovery and have been assisting 20 downtown businesses. In less than a year, our 2018 team helped 24 businesses with technical assistance and awarded 10 grants. Among the 10 grantees, 68 jobs were retained and 11 new jobs were created, and overall, participants reported that sales were up nearly 17% on average, year over year. … AND the Virginia Economic Development Association recognized this innovation with a 2019 Community Economic Development Award! Several other communities have been replicating our model for their cities, too.
HDR jumped into action to support downtown businesses when the pandemic reached Harrisonburg. We launched a webpage that listed all the ways people could still support local businesses and updated it all year long when they re-opened or launched e-commerce and delivery. We developed a page for all the grant opportunities and information geared towards business owners’ sustainability during this time. Together with the Small Business Assistance COVID-19 Taskforce we developed a Resilience Grant program that quickly disseminated over $100,000 in small grants to business, including those outside of downtown. We provided constant and timely communication about funding opportunities and information quickly to businesses throughout the pandemic to help them survive.
Business Communications and Convenings
All year long, HDR sends timely and targeted information and resources directly to downtown businesses related to grants, promotional opportunities, joint marketing campaigns, awards, trainings, and general news about downtown happenings and more. During the pandemic, we sent multiple emails a week to keep everyone informed about what was happening and what resources were available to help them get through the crisis. In non-pandemic times, we often convene businesses for informational meetings, brainstorming sessions, and networking. HDR meets with the Friendly City Merchants each month to plan retail-focused events and promotions throughout the year. We develop campaigns and projects together like Winter Wonderfest. As part of that holiday campaign, HDR coordinates the Cookie Tour in December each year.
David F Denman Façade Enhancement Grants
HDR has funded 100 projects and awarded $201,250 in façade grants over 14 years. Our Design Committee is comprised of several architects and design professionals who offer free guidance and recommendations on new construction, rehab projects, and interior spaces – either as needed or in conjunction with grant applications. Some of our recently funded projects include a historic neon sign restoration at Gitchell’s Photography, the backyard patio of Pulp & SBC, and Mashita’s new sign.
HDR often offers workshops and trainings on pertinent business topics as needed. For example, in 2019, we designed a 4-part Marketing Made Easy course to help simplify marketing and help more businesses get into promoting their business more often. We engaged 40 participants and have already seen the changes!
We manage the downtown-wide gift certificate program in partnership with Pendleton Bank. This program allows Friends of Downtown businesses to accept gift certificates that people can buy for their friends and family all year long. This program helps keep money local and often incentivizes the recipients to spend even more than the value of the certificate.