Has anyone tried these ideas out? Does this stuff really work?
It’s natural to want to know if other people in other communities have been successful with the SaveYour.Town ideas and the Idea Friendly Method. So we started this list to share with you.
Helping meet the needs of our community
SaveYour.Town was instrumental in helping our organization meet the needs of our community!
We worked with Becky to provide a series of educational webinars that were spot-on with their timing and available resources as businesses reopened post-pandemic.
Deb delivered a series of action visits and embedded community experiences for a number of smaller communities in Eastern Iowa.
These activities were a part of a large small business development project, and we couldn’t have completed it without them!
Both of these professional women were extremely knowledgeable, helpful, detail-oriented and genuinely cared about results.
I would strongly recommend working with Deb, Becky and all of the resources available through SaveYour.Town.
This was a very beneficial partnership with us and I look forward to working with them again!
Lori Scovel, Limestone Bluffs RC & D, Iowa
Easy, doable, accessible ideas
This was a fantastic webinar chockablock with easy, doable, accessible ideas for inexpensive ec dev. Someone who attended even said it was the best webinar they’ve ever been to. Two plus years into a pandemic, that is quite a feat!
You two are just absolutely the best. I was just saying at my office that I want to tell everyone I know about how amazing your ideas are.
Thank you again for that fantastic presentation. I am your fangirl forever.
Heather Hallgrimson, Co-operatives First, Saskatchewan, Canada
I wasn’t sure what you could teach me
I have to be honest…I was a Chamber Director for 12 years and now work as a Community Development Director in a small rural County and I wasn’t sure what two women about my age could teach me about Community Development….well boy have I learned a thing or 20!!
I just want to say thank you for sharing all your great ideas and expertise…it’s absolutely wonderful and very real.
So much so that I would like to upgrade to the full year, unlimited subscription.
Shelly Hansel, Kansas
7 Restaurants in a town of 1,558!
Several years ago, Deb was in Akron, Iowa, population 1,558, for an onsite Idea Friendly visit for one week. They’ve been gathering their crowd, building connections, and taking small steps. Their former mayor, Sharon, sends updates periodically. The following is from her latest email update.
We now have seven businesses serving food:
- Chubs is now doing homemade breakfast and lunches.
- Pizza Ranch has new owners since you were here.
- The old bowling alley, and they have the best pasta nights. The chef is from Chicago, so he and his family moved here and bought a house.
- Joe’s Café also has new owners specializing in Mexican food. The new owners were from Sioux City, but they are renting a house here.
- The corner bar, under new management, and serving meals from a new kitchen; A young gal is managing and cooking. It thrills my heart to see so many cars parked around it, especially at night. They frequently have special activities on Saturdays. Certainly draws people to town.
- The golf course has a new manager this summer; and last winter they totally remodeled the inside and created a beautiful patio on the north side of the building.
Justin Higman added fifteen new camping spots to his Lazy H. The front five were all taken by people from Omaha. So, that should mean a lot of new friends for fellow campers. Many of last year’s seasonals left their trailers there all winter; that part opened April 1. The rest of them and the cabins open in May. He is currently in the process of adding one larger cabin and two smaller ones. https://www.lazyhcampground.com/
The Hearts and Souls group is really working on finding out what people want. A lot of young people are working diligently on that. They presented plans for a walking trail around the golf course area at their last gathering. In addition they are working on a plan with the state to safely get the campers from the Lazy H safely to the business district.
The school finally got their school bond issue passed, so they are currently letting bids. The plan is to start building this summer.
The bids came in for our new aquatic center almost double what they were in 2020. However, a few weeks ago someone anonymously gave a check for $250,000. They tore the old pool out in February and March when it was so warm out. A couple of weeks ago the city council agreed to accept a bid on the construction of the pool and start construction this summer.
The Care Center (nursing home) has decided they are going to break soil for a memory unit. the city of Akron name is on the present lease for their new building and will also be on the new addition.
A guy from LeMars bought an old, dilapidated farmhouse. They raised the house, put a new level under it, and remodeled the old part. It was going to be a hunting lodge, but they decided to let others rent it out. Only $800 for a weekend or by the week for $1200. It sleeps sixteen, but with the huge family room, you could sleep lots more there. The kitchen is on the first floor. The family room is built over the garage. There is a wooden deck on all four sides, and a ramp to get up to the second floor. It is absolutely gorgeous and located just maybe a mile South from the Lazy H. https://www.facebook.com/AkronPonderosa/
I still need to get a picture of the finished area between the vet clinic and the bar. They are converting the front part of that area to a sitting area with tables, large city tree/flowerpots. The back part the new owners of the bar have rented and will have an outside eating area for the smokers. However, if someone wants to buy the lot, the lease will be suspended. The lumber yard donated and put up the wooden fence.
A few years ago, a new young family purchased the Akron Lumber. You should see the remodel project going on. All new roofing, and now they are making part of it a lawn and garden center. And as for the inside of the building, they have rearranged it all. The old depot across the highway is where they have their showroom for their cabinets and faucets. On top of that his parents have moved to Akron, and they are his two most awesome additions to the business. https://www.hardwareretailing.com/iowa-couple-follows-dreams-reopens-akron-lumber-company/
Price Auction Company has been having online auctions every two weeks since the end of the pandemic. Hopefully they again soon have in-person auctions. In addition, they have also started a flea market in Westfield. Both activities bring additional people to our community!
Housing right now is at a premium. The house two to the east of us sold the day it was listed; another house took only the weekend to sell.
Oh, my gosh, Deb. You cannot believe what is happening to spark enthusiasm in our community! Life is good in Akron, Iowa. I love this place!
Big cities are really collections of small towns
What to do with that hole in the ground downtown
Cathy Mehelich and I visited at an event in April. They had a dilemma – there are several consumer shows and visitor events at the convention center across the street.
Right across from it is a big hole, that used to have a building there – and it’s no longer there. Arson, they say. What a mess!
I shared a story with Cathy about Warren County, Iowa (see below) and how they made banners to cover up a hole in their downtown. They were rebuilding the county courthouse and invited communities in the town to create banners to put upon the fencing around the hole.
The City partnered with the local Convention & Visitor’s Bureau to design and install multiple banners to cover the construction site fencing that can be moved throughout the site progress. The site is being prepared for demolition of the adjacent damaged buildings this summer. EDA staff worked with the property owner to certify the blighted properties prior to demolition in order to preserve the ability to use Tax Increment Financing redevelopment district as details of the future project have yet to be fully determined.
I love what St. Cloud is doing! They’ve added QR codes with pertinent information for media, locals, and visitors alike. The banners are reusable and designed to be moved around.
There are many stories of creative people in our small towns and rural communities. We encourage you to share them with others! We hear enough stories of dying small towns – let’s talk about the good things.
Testing your product and Trying your market
I visited Paulding, Ohio in early 2019 on a Embedded Community Experience. They had an empty building owner who also worked full time. He wanted to open a coffee shop in his building. We talked about starting small, testing the market out and see if people would support it. One older gentleman at the table wanted to volunteer to be there when the owner couldn’t be. Today, one year later the coffee shop has grown. The owner’s wife is working there. The volunteer still comes by. They use part of the space as a rental for events like birthday parties, smaller meetings, and gatherings of all sorts. This Idea Friendly Method worked very well for them. They grew along with their customers!
Where are they one year later?
Embedded Community Experience in Columbiana, Ohio
Visit by Deb in February 2019.
Columbiana, Ohio is a small town Deb visited in February 2019 for an Embedded Community Experience. 6,400 people live in the town Harvey Firestone called home oh so many years ago.
- One focus was on the downtown area because there quite a few empty storefronts.
- One owner of several buildings wanted to make downtown more entertainment focused, more places to eat and drink and be entertained, less retail.
- They have three areas in town for retail, it’s called the Triangle. Downtown, Firestone Park and DutchHaus eating and shopping.
Lance Willard, city manager and Tom Mackell of Firestone Farms accompanied Deb to most of the activities and visits. There were several other residents, business people and organizations that got involved as well.
In the past year, Columbiana has made leaps and bounds in their pursuit of becoming a friendlier town. Here are just a few of their results.
- All of the buildings downtown are filled, except one. There are more restaurants than antique stores, and the antique stores that are there have created an inviting place to come experience their wares.
- Firestone Park is now a vibrant shopping and eating area, and the stores are all filled. It used to be an empty, forlorn piece of land on the edge of town.
- A local real estate developer offers free rent for a year to entrepreneurs who don’t have the wherewithal to get started. This is a town that believes entrepreneurs are the new inventors and innovators.
- One local woman donated 4 million dollars to the park for perpetuity. The park is done, with 6 waterfalls. It was a muddy hole in the ground a year ago. This park is located one block from downtown. Now visitors can eat, drink, shop and relax in this welcoming park.
- Columbiana was nominated by a citizen as the Nicest Place in Ohio. It was a contest where people had to vote to win. During every summer and fall event there were booths set up in the middle of the party where people could vote for their town. They did win the title Nicest Place in Ohio. Then they went on to be judged by a panel for the nicest place in America. They won that too!
- Hallmark voted Columbiana the 19th nicest place to celebrate Christmas.
- TOP 10 Advertising voted Birdfish Brewing Co. as the seventh best bar and pub in Northeast Ohio. Dutch Haus Bakery is #1 bakery and Salon Anthurium made top #1 salon. The salon just recently opened, and their loyal customers brought them to first place.
This community took to heart all the conversations Deb started when she asked them what they wanted. One suggestion was to take pride in their town. They now realize they are responsible for sharing that pride with others. The townspeople are actively involved in their community, and make the magic happen.
Welcome to Columbiana, an Idea Friendly Town.
1 Year of progress in business and art
Colfax, Washington, population 2,800
Visit by Becky August 2018, update September 2019
Sarah McKnight just told me all about the progress they’ve made in the past year in Colfax, Washington. Lots of the ideas we talked about in August last year are now reality!
The new Colfax Mercantile Store is a shared building with room for 8 to 10 new vendors. They’re full up and have a waiting list! There’s women’s clothes, handcrafted soaps, and fun upcycled stuff (like a guitar wall clock). The commercial kitchen means they also have a cookie baker and a frozen yogurt place inside the Mercantile! The Chamber and downtown group also have their offices in there.
Each vendor works a set number of hours a week at the counter making sales for everyone.
You know how often we talk about shared retail spaces, and Colfax has really done well with theirs in just one year!
All that activity around the Mercantile has started even more good things.
Another local business is working on remodeling a double storefront building, so they can step up from their current single storefront. Inspired by the success of the Mercantile, they’re thinking of making their old building into a new shared space. Hey, there is a waiting list at the Merc, so it sounds promising!
There are a bunch of additional new businesses in the past year: a coffee roaster, a plant store that also started a botany club (smart!), a branch office of a veterinarian, a new restaurant, a new vintage place, the expansion of an existing retailer, and even more.
If you’re struggling to get businesses to be open weekends, you’ll love hearing that the Mercantile, the coffee roaster, the plant store and the new restaurant are open weekends! That helps apply a little positive peer pressure to get other businesses open weekends.
Now let’s talk art!
Colfax already has an active arts group. Occasionally, they will create “crack art” — cute tiny paintings that incorporate a crack in the sidewalk, or a corner of a building or electrical conduits. Any town could copy this idea.
When I tour any downtown, I’m always looking at easy ways to add more color and art. It shows activity and life and just makes it more pleasant to live in your town. Building on suggestions we all brainstormed up while I was there, Colfax has new murals and new fishes!
A long stretch of chain link fence surrounding a concrete waterway runs alongside downtown Colfax. Now it has fishes! During the tour, we brainstormed for ways to dress up that concrete and the chain link. Inspired by a similar set seen in another town, they involved the whole community painting fishes, then hung them on the fence, even across the bridge. It’s a great step, and one they can keep building on.
They did a future mural! We talked about how murals don’t have to show just history; they can show the future, too. Yes your town has a past, but it also has a future. Colfax took that idea and now it has a new robot mural! It’s kind of a retro future take on American Gothic with robots set in a very Palouse landscape.
Their existing 1880s history mural looked a little lonely, surrounded by a big stretch of blank wall, and we talked about adding more art there. They added a bright new colorful design all the way across, framing the existing mural.
Plus there’s a new happiness mural. Both of these feel contemporary and show off their beautiful natural surroundings. They say the Palouse region is the American Tuscany, full of rolling hills, farm fields and wildflowers.
That’s a lot of new color in one year! Imagine residents seeing all this activity downtown, all the life and interest from the new paint and the new businesses. You know this builds momentum that will carry forward.
I’m so proud of everything the people of Colfax have accomplished and will continue to accomplish.
When you bring me to town, we unleash the energy you’ve built up. It’s not an accident this all happened in one year. The people of Colfax used my visit as a trigger to make good things happen now. What will you use as a trigger in your town?
Dressing Up the Negatives
Warren County, Iowa
Shared by Lorin Ditzler, December 2019
A big group of our volunteers met last week and watched clips from your Embedded Community Experience video and we were inspired by what we heard! The message was particularly relevant to a project we are working on to “dress up our negatives.”
In one of our communities, the town square right now is a big construction site – the County courthouse in the center of it has been torn down and the construction of the new one is going to take years. So we thought: let’s use this giant fence as a big canvas to celebrate our community! We have received permission to cover the fence with banners/fence wrap that have pictures that tell the story of our County, and possibly some murals or other art as well. We are hoping to “give everyone small but meaningful ways to participate” by reserving portions of the fence for various volunteer groups and artists to add to it in their own way.
I also just heard from one of our volunteers that after seeing the idea in the video about doing a temporary chalk mural, she is going to incorporate a chalk art contest into one of our annual events: a series of “front porch” gatherings across the community. I love the idea of finding ways to incorporate public art in small ways into our other programs.
I also continue to promote the “consensus through action” philosophy – as we look ahead to 2020, our committees are doing a bit of strategic planning, but with the perspective that any “plan” is simply a collection of possibilities, and our priorities will not truly emerge until we see which “actions people are excited enough to take.” We go where the passion is!
Good Works in Progress
Twisp, Washington, population 900
Visit by Becky, October 2019
Shared by Don Linnertz, Executive Director, TwispWorks, December 2019
Lots of goodness here in Twisp since you visited. Our winter [utility pole] banners with the new Twisp logo are up. This summer we’ll switch to the summer banners and incorporate a call for artists to design half of the banners. We’re planning a Tour of Empty Buildings for March with the Entrepreneurship class at the high school creating and presenting ideas for new businesses in those locations as part of their class, a renewed discussion about the need for affordable rentals in the Methow Valley, etc. Thanks for your encouragement and motivation!
Learning Block Studios: One building, lots of businesses
Gordo, Alabama, population 3,500
Shared by Tracey Homan, inspired by our email newsletters August 2019
I just wanted to tell you how much your news letters have inspired me and what I have done with your ideas. I live in a small town of 3500 people about 26 miles west of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Our Main Street downtown has mostly boarded up stores with owners from out of town that use the space as storage. We have a little used book store run by the mayor, a flower shop, a pest control business, a thrift store, and 3 banks Within 6 months the new bypass will open and go around our town.
For the last 12 years I have driven 45 minutes to my job on the other side of Tuscaloosa everyday. My boss has been thinking of retiring so I would drive and think about why do I want to do for the rest of my life. That’s where your newsletters gave me inspiration along with Pinterest.
In June, I opened up Learning Block Studio – we teach art, music, dance, fitness, baton, sewing and have a Makers Market for people to sell there products. We have 4 vendors in the market at this time. My teachers are paid on a commission basis so the more classes they introduce the more money they make. Since I still have my day job, I have a retired lady that is a widow running my office, and stay at home moms teaching art and music, college students teaching fitness, baton and a recent college graduate that was on the dance team at the University of Alabama that wants to eventually own her own dance studio. All these people live in our little community.
By using what I have learned from you, I have made my Learning Block a place where you can rent space to tryout your business ideas and hopefully grow to open your own business in our town. I hope the dance class grow so much that a new studio will be necessary for our dance teacher to open her own studio. At that point the baton and fitness will build up enough to take up the time spots Dance was in.
We also had a large room on the end of our building that had been a pharmacy so we turned that space into a rental space – right now we rent it to a relative that has opened a snowball and ice cream business using the drive up window for walk up customers. They will change their menu to in the fall to sell soups and coffees. I hope they will grow enough where they will move own to there own building too. Then I will use that space for the birthday parties that our art and dance teachers have started doing.
We haven’t had much interest from our town government but they will come around to our way of doing business – only because they want to know what people are talking about. We will win them over!!
This has been so exciting to watch play out – people start sharing ideas and new ideas start building. Our customers and students come up with ideas making it so much fun. Our motto is ‘We want to teach what you want to learn’.
Thank you again for doing what y’all do – you are making a difference!!!
6 new businesses in 60 days
Paulding, Ohio, population 3,600
Visit by Deb, April 2019
Economic Development Director Jerry Zielke said they started six new business in the sixty days following Deb Brown’s visit.
Decorated chain link fence
Castle Rock, Washington, population 2,000
Visit by Becky, January 2019
When I visited downtown Castle Rock, we stopped at this bare chain link fence. The hardware store/lumber yard needs security for their materials stored here. But it doesn’t have to be quite so unwelcoming!
They already had student art squares that weren’t really visible, and I suggested moving a few. Soon, Nancy Chennault sent these photos of the students installing lots of new art squares including a big arrow pointing to the art, nature and museum area nearby.
Tour of Empty Buildings
Oglesby, Illinois, population 3,800
Shared by Shug Grosenbach, North Central IL Council of Governments
We thought at first we would only have people that wanted to see the buildingss because of curiosity, but we had people that are very interested in moving their business to Oglesby or starting a new one. The outcome is exactly what we wanted.
Thanks for the great idea. Our group is thinking of doing this again in the spring when the weather is warmer to keep interest in Oglesby moving forward.
From fatalistic to optimistic because of SaveYour.Town videos
Morris, Minnesota, population 5,300
Shared by Sherri Booms Holm, August 2018
Today I shared The Future of Retail video with retailers in the city of Morris, MN. We had a great conversation after the video, with many people inspired to try one or more of the ideas. One business owner admitted that he has been promoting his business the same way for 25 years and maybe it was time to change! He was also the one who said, upon leaving: “An hour ago I was fatalistic, now I’m hopeful.” I will definitely follow up with them to see what happens! Thank you for this video, which is giving people hope!
Kids create a Cozy Cabin Christmas
Three new businesses as a result
Miller, South Dakota, population 1,500
Inspired by our presentation, updates from 2017 and 2018
Dylan Fulton and Camden Breitling, high school students from Miller, South Dakota, heard that idea and ran with it. Together with some supportive adults including Tammy Caffee, they planned and held an event called Cozy Cabin Christmas. They convinced a storage shed retailer to play host to four temporary businesses during their community’s month-long Christmas on the Prairie celebration.
It was a success, with lots of shoppers and plenty of community building as well. They learned it was really cold in December, so they did it again in summer and called it Christmas in July. It’s still alive and fast becoming a tradition in Miller.
As of 2018, three of the temporary businesses had stepped up to full time businesses.