GRANTS PASS – A quarterly meeting of merchants who own or operate businesses in the Grants Pass Central Business District Jan. 16 focused on ways for merchants to unify their efforts to promote and support each other in local commerce.
“It’s really a great time to be in business in downtown Grants Pass,” said Jon Bowen of Experience Grants Pass, the city’s tourism contractor.
Bowen conducted the meeting, which included an extensive agenda of items addressing topics relevant to local business.
Rikki Perrin of Josephine County Emergency Management delivered what she called a “gut punch” to attendees regarding emergency preparedness. Perrin discussed the ramifications of a potential Cascadia earthquake event, and the importance of being prepared for a major emergency. She shared a wide range of available resources and encouraged everyone to be “two weeks ready.”
“It’s called ‘pre-pared,’ because you have to do it before you need it,” said Perrin.
James Love with Terrain Landscape Architecture presented a brief overview of the assessment his firm is conducting for the city regarding the downtown area. Love said his team found downtown to be more automobile oriented than pedestrian friendly. He said the attractiveness of the 6th Street corridor is not matched by the side streets, which are “lacking in character.”
Love’s firm will also be recommending improvements to public parking, wayfinding signs, the placement of public art, and a public plaza to promote better pedestrian use of the business district, he said.
Building and business owner, Ward Warren, who also serves on the city’s Downtown Parking Taskforce, expressed many of Love’s recommendations echoed those of the taskforce, and that he would like to see more collaboration between Love’s firm and the city’s committees.
Bowen provided an overview of ideas and suggestions aimed at helping local businesses stand out in their market and better compete with the growing trend of consumers shopping online.
“It is getting tough, but it’s a great time to step back, look at what we do, and make some changes,” said Bowen.
He highlighted several areas where businesses could focus on improving their customer experience, encouraging business owners to be innovative in their promotions, emphasizing their distinction, and creating a “genuine connection” with their customers through personalized attention and improved customer service.
“If you want to stand out apart from the digital gods out there, you have the tools, and it’s you,” said Bowen.
Bowen also encouraged businesses to increase their operating hours and “freshen up” their store interiors and exteriors with better lighting and customer store flow through display racks and merchandise. He suggested store owners ask their neighboring business to provide a friendly evaluation of each other’s store displays and layouts.
“If we collectively work on our individual stores, we provide a collective experience,” Bowen said.
Shannon Holder of Ann and Shan’s on 6th Street agreed with Bowen. Holder has been instrumental in creating promotional events for downtown businesses to collectively participate in. She leads the Grants Pass Downtown Merchants Facebook Group and encourages downtown businesses to work together to create a collective experience.
“We are all an outside pedestrian mall, and we all need to work together,” said Holder.
Holder and Bowen have both suggested the creation of an “official association” for downtown businesses to join. The association would serve as a way for businesses to unify their efforts to address issues facing downtown businesses, make recommendations to the city regarding improvements, support downtown events, and promote the district overall as a destination shopping location.
“Most successful downtowns have a business group. The idea is to unify the businesses,” said Bowen.
Warren provided some insight into the history of a former association and expressed his desire to see a new business association develop to have a collective voice independent of other interests so that it could better promote downtown.
Christie Swafford of the Grants Pass and Josephine County Chamber of Commerce informed local businesses that the Chamber would be conducting the city’s 2020 Business Retention and Expansion survey. The survey is conducted every three years. Chamber volunteers will soon be out visiting businesses to obtain their input, she said.
Director of Parks and Community Development Lora Glover introduced a short survey regarding the city’s Adult Use Ordinance. The Grants Pass City Council is considering making changes to restrictions on adult use businesses in the downtown area, and they directed staff to obtain input from the local businesses who could be affected by the ordinance.
“It’s a very short survey,” said Glover.
The meeting concluded with a brief discussion about instituting a “Shop Downtown Grants Pass” campaign that would include downtown businesses providing a lapel sticker to their customers with every purchase. The sticker would read something simple such as “I shopped in Downtown Grants Pass today!” Business owners in support of the idea hope that it will be a way for residents to display their pride in the Central Business District, possibly leading to selfies, social media posts, and increased word-of-mouth promotion of downtown.
“We’re thriving in the beauty of a really neat downtown district,” said Don Hendricks of Don’s Bike Center on “G” Street.
“I’m super optimistic about everything that is going on,” said Bowen.