An artist paints during Wausau’s Exhibitour event
Although promotion is only one of the Four Points in the Main Street approach to downtown revitalization (the others being organization, economic vitality and design), local events have an outsized influence on the perception and imagination of residents and visitors to the district. Creating memorable experiences for an hour, evening or weekend leaves people wanting more.
While business tie-ins to local festivities have always been a hallmark of a successful event, this engagement has shifted over time. Few communities offer traditional Maxwell Street-style bargain basement sales, instead focusing on creating memorable experiences within the retail spaces themselves. For instance, Wausau’s Exhibitour event combines the modern staples of an art crawl and a wine walk into a multi-stop interactive art experience. Participants enjoy food and wine tasting as well as live art demonstrations (culminating in a juried art show) in more than 20 downtown shops.
The most successful events make participants part of the future of the districts. A great example of this type of initiative is On Broadway’s Better Block Project, which transformed a multi-block area of the district into a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly environment for a two-day period. The event engaged multiple groups of volunteers to help paint a mural; perform landscaping work; and install street furniture, alley lighting and a popup art gallery—and then hosted hundreds more to enjoy the newly installed amenities, experiencing the district in a new light.
Similarly, Tomahawk’s Farm to Table event introduced more than 100 local children (and their families) to local business owners, farmers market vendors and the connection between Main Street and entrepreneurs. The students visited the community garden, shopped the farmers market and ate lunch at a downtown business featuring a locally grown salad bar. Not only did the event attract a new audience to downtown, it also resulted in a 700% increase in sales at the market and attracted several new volunteers to the Main Street organization.