Marketing Your Downtown Main Street - Frederick, MD

By Bob Phibbs

frederick md downtown marketing main streetI was invited by the Downtown Frederick Partnership to address their local merchants and work one-on-one with eight businesses as a mini-makeover. I rarely write about clients but felt compelled to for several reasons.

First and foremost, what is good in America can be seen on on their Main Street -  Market St - and the surrounding businesses. From yoga studio, toy store, furniture, gift, market, pet supply and hair studio they were only interested in what could they do better.

Yes, one attendee tried to make his retail success dependent on how well the city was marketed but my answer to him was that you have to make the city an exceptional experience.

That’s what will build word-of-mouth marketing. Just like a business, you can’t just take out an ad saying, Come to Frederick you have to earn it.

Their Compelling History

What is so right with Frederick is that you have a town with a history, a personality and a synergy. In the middle of the historic Market Street, you discover a large picture of the town with Union soldiers being welcomed. A paragraph later you find out the Confederates captured the city a few weeks later and ransomed it for $200,000 or they would torch it.

The banks all chipped in and saved the town, delivering bushel baskets of money at the corner of 2nd and Market St.

They didn’t look to the government or anyone else; if they were going to save their city, it was up to them. (In that same spirit, PNC Bank felt so strongly about bringing me out that they underwrote the entire operation.)

Floodwaters descended on the historic area several times and the city had to decide whether or not to abandon downtown. City leaders decided to stick it out and make it work which resulted in a creekside park.

Strolling down Market Street in Frederick, I considered the miscues that could have been taken under the guise of “urban renewal;” like moving all the city services out. They all remain in the historic downtown including the courts and the main library to keep the heart of the town relevant and draw traffic.

An organic retail space thrives with vibrant restaurants and interesting shops for the daytime population of 10,000.Sure, in California you could create a “mixed use” space with a giant planogram to engineer a façade of Main Street with big chains like GAP, Subway and Michaels.

But here you actually get it with independent retailers; just like one hundred years ago.

Main Street America

Frederick is one of hundreds of Main Street Programs throughout the United States. These programs revitalize central business districts of cities and towns by offering assistance.

One of Frederick's popular programs are their First Saturdays where stores stay open late. Two things to note, they are holding it on a day people would naturally be out shopping, not on a Tuesday or some night hoping to make people come in a down time. Also note these are not a craft fair or something being brought in - 200 specialty shops, art galleries, cultural venues and restaurants are putting on a united front to make coming downtown profitable for all.

Many downtowns struggle with street parking and Frederick is no exception. With two-hour meters, people often get tickets – heck I even got one. But they do have four parking structures not far off the main drag and are building a fifth.

Yes it would be nice if they offered free wi-fi in the entire downtown area, better signage and more merchants visible on the web. But for now, I think they are poised for greatness.

One more thing, the local paper the Frederick New-Post publicized the event in advance so my event drew a large crowd, and they covered it afterwards. Yes, people still read newspapers.

See also, The Shocking Truth of Small Town Retailers and Big City Businesses

In Sum

To mobilize a group of business owners and retailers, you have to lay seeds, integrate the event with multiple groups and then you come out with success.

Contrary to all the hype, downtowns can still deliver – if they want to. You want to go the way of the dinosaur? Sit in your store complaining about how things are changing for the worse.

You want to grow your retail sales? Get involved in helping your local businesses do more than offer coupons and sidewalk sales.

Frederick is the face of American small business trying to ignore the negative nabobs of negativism in the media, take care of their customers and growing their business.

The very best of America.

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