Our View: Using experts' advice

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John Schler of the Colorado Center for Community Development is the latest expert on downtown revitalization to offer suggestions to local shopkeepers about how to create a viable and profitable central business district.

Schler was in town Wednesday to discuss a four-point approach to revitalizing downtown through the Main Street Program. The state's Department of Local Affairs offers a matching grant for cities to obtain an assessment of their desired downtown renovations plans, but much of the work is up to members of the community.

"It gets down to the people right here in Craig, Colo. It's the time and effort people put in," he said about whether revitalization plans reach fruition. "There's no magic about it; it's you working and following through."

Schler's observations echoed what Ken Burnes told Craig's business community in August. Burnes conducted workshops paid for by a Craig/Moffat County Economic Development Partnership grant that provided a demographic profile of the Craig's customer base and tips on marketing.

Both men have told business owners to be consistent, visible and innovative. That means being open when people have time to shop -- after hours and on weekends. It means finding out who customers are and how to cater to them. It means devising a strategy that incorporates promotion, aesthetics, lasting partnerships and customer service.

The downtown area has made great strides in recent years thanks to the efforts of downtown business owners and the city. Seven years ago they partnered up and invested $400,000 in a sidewalk renovation project that included benches, new trash cans and lights equipped to hold banners.

But Schler cautioned that the design element is only one part of the equation. A downtown can look as neat as a pin, but it doesn't solve a shopper's frustration upon finding a store closed with a note that says "back at 2 p.m."

We think that downtown businesses need to understand if they want change to happen, they have to be the catalyst. All the advice in the world is only as good as the plan to implement it. Now that local businesses are armed with good information, it's up to them to put it into practice.

We don't expect businesses to go it alone. They'll need the help and support of other organizations, but they should lead the charge. There are plenty of people, from civic leaders to elected officials who understand that a strong downtown is a benefit to everyone. It improves sales tax receipts, it benefits business owners, creates jobs, provides an interesting diversion for tourists and locals and links us to our past.

We also think that downtown revitalization should include more than one block of Yampa Avenue. We hope that those with the vision and initiative to lead a downtown revitalization project consider ideas to make the whole area (from Breeze Street to the movie theater) come alive.

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