Comparing downtowns

The Staples Downtown Revitalization Committee met on Jan. 4 to discuss the potential of the Staples downtown and to compare it to other communities in Minnesota.
Members of the group reported on towns they had visited since the previous meeting. Following the presentations, the group noted some of the characteristics that were common to successful downtowns. Aesthetics and cleaning up the downtown was a key. Communication between business owners was important for planning events, activities and making a welcoming downtown for people not just to shop, but to spend time and hang out. Every community found their own local niche that works for them but may not for other communities.
Communities that were worried they would lose their downtown when big box stores were built on the edges of the town found that they could continue to be strong.
The group suggested some things that the Staples downtown could do better, including wayfinding signs and maps, and providing green space for people to sit or hang out. The group also found it is important to identify places that need new owners and empty buildings that need new businesses.
Here are some of the things learned about Minnesota downtowns:
Willmar - Cleaned up downtown, fixed up some key buildings. In summer, they open garage doors of building for indoor/outdoor events.
New Ulm - Cleaned up downtown, have great downtown parks. Made a resource book for front-line workers to help customers navigate downtown.
Little Falls - Neighborhoods near downtown are well maintained. Good tourism, good signage, good promotions. Use arts to promote downtown.
Park Rapids - Good areas for people to walk, gather and sit. Mixture of stores, many focused on tourism.
Deadwood, South Dakota - Used historical theme to build up downtown, added green space. Always have activities and experiences for tourists to do.
Wadena - Condensed downtown, with highway businesses bringing people in. Arts included in good mix of businesses and restaurants.
Crosby - Cleaned up, but still has more to do for curb appeal. Switched from mining town to mountain biking town. Great web site brings people in from all over. Added different styles of businesses such as a yoga studio to cater to new clientele coming into town.
Grand Rapids - three different downtown neighborhoods that are divided by highways and river. No restaurants downtown. Downtown paper mill still running but with fewer workers. Despite challenges, hosts events, street fairs, food trucks, holiday displays, unique items and art walks. Has developed a variety of stores and has a visitor’s bureau to help plan.
Perham - Downtown is more than just tourism, most businesses are mainly supported by locals. Downtown business owners meet every day at 7 a.m. to plan events. It’s not about the businesses, it is about creating a place where people want to live. Business owners got together to build housing.
Walker - Busy highway is a problem. Great product mix, a person can park their car and get everything they need without moving. Geared toward tourism, but with no big box stores nearby, has become a regional hub for shopping and services. Business owners make plans and then go to the chamber when they have a consensus on what they want to do.
To learn more about the Staples Downtown Revitalization Committee, contact Economic Development Director Melissa Wyman at or call 218-894-2550.

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