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Top 10 ways for small businesses to engage with downtown events

July 21, 2023
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The Art Walk in De Pere

Participating in downtown events provides fantastic opportunities for small businesses to foster brand awareness.

These events provide opportunities for making connections and boosting visibility.

By Adriana Humbert, WEDC downtown development promotions manager

Small businesses play a crucial role in fostering vibrant local communities.

One effective way for businesses to boost their visibility, connect with potential customers, and help their communities is by getting involved in downtown events. Downtown events can be fantastic opportunities for small businesses to foster brand awareness.

In this article, we will explore the top 10 ways small businesses in Wisconsin can play a role in downtown events in ways that will maximize their presence and establish meaningful connections with their target audience.

Green Bay’s Broadway District sponsor High Five, an exclusive rooftop dining experience.

Many of the small businesses in Green Bay’s Broadway District sponsor High Five, an exclusive rooftop dining experience.

1. Sponsorship

Sponsoring or partnering with downtown events is an excellent way for small businesses to gain exposure and to show support for the local community. You can help build brand awareness for your business by taking part in events where potential customers may be in attendance. Sponsorship opportunities might include logo placement, mentions of your business during the event, or a chance for you to address the audience directly. Sponsor status positions your business as a community supporter and enhances its credibility.

Sponsorship can also involve collaborating on specific event activities, such as sponsoring the children’s area, hosting a booth, or offering product samples. Other ways a business can be a valuable partner include offering to provide resources, expertise, or promotional support; collaborating on joint marketing campaigns and cross-promotions; or co-hosting activities during the event.

If your business is associated with a popular event, the event’s positive reputation can rub off on your business and broaden its customer base. It can also generate trust with other participating businesses and boost your company’s credibility. Beyond that, partnerships such as these can extend well past the event, allowing businesses to collaborate on post-event marketing campaigns, cross-promotions, or other joint initiatives that further enhance visibility and community impact.

Atlas Gaming in Fond du Lac

Atlas Gaming in Fond du Lac set up a vendor booth at the annual Fond du Lac Fondue Fest to interact with potential customers during the event.

2. Vendor participation

One of the most direct ways to engage with downtown events is by participating as a vendor. Set up an inviting and visually appealing booth or stall to showcase your products or services and talk to event attendees. Businesses can offer special event promotions, product samples, or interactive demonstrations to pique curiosity and draw people in. It is important for businesses to take this opportunity to have meaningful conversations, answer questions, and build relationships with potential customers, so they can create a memorable brand experience.

Downtown Racine hosts an annual Fashion Show

Downtown Racine hosts an annual Fashion Show on Monument Square, partnering with 13 downtown businesses to highlight not just clothing and jewelry but also hair and nail salons as part of the runway show.

3. Partnership

Collaborating with nearby small businesses can be a strategy that benefits all involved. Businesses can pool their resources to create a more compelling presence at downtown events or create mini-events focused on shared customer interests. They can host coordinated events—such as a fashion boutique and a jewelry store working together to stage a runway show—or they can create joint marketing campaigns or offer bundled promotions. This type of collaboration not only expands the customer base of the businesses but also strengthens the small business network. By supporting and promoting each other, businesses can collectively thrive and contribute to the vibrancy of the local entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Downtown Rhinelander hosts an annual Redikulus Dae event.

Downtown Rhinelander hosts an annual Redikulus Dae event where local shops bring their items outside and set up entertaining sidewalk sale displays.

4. Adjacent events

Businesses can take advantage of the increased foot traffic during downtown events by hosting their own pop-up events or sidewalk sales. They can set up an attractive display outside their storefront, featuring event-specific promotions and discounts, and can engage passersby in conversation as they offer samples, demonstrations, or interactive experiences. These temporary events create a buzz and encourage event attendees to explore the business further. Signs or flyers can be used to guide event attendees to the business’s location and create a sense of excitement around the special offerings. By capitalizing on the event’s energy, businesses can attract new customers and drive traffic to their doors.

Pop-up markets are becoming increasingly popular in downtown areas as events of their own, offering small businesses a temporary venue to showcase their products. These events are often held in popular gathering spots, and they offer a unique opportunity for businesses to create an immersive shopping experience that stands out from traditional retail environments. Small businesses can set up attractive displays, offer special promotions, host unique demonstrations, and create a memorable shopping experience that encourages customers to visit their brick-and-mortar stores in the future. Meeting potential customers face to face in this type of setting gives business owners a chance to share their passion and knowledge as well as the story behind their products. This direct connection often leads to increased sales and fosters customer loyalty, as attendees can make a memorable connection with the businesses and their offerings.

The Art Walk in De Pere

The Art Walk in De Pere pairs local artists with downtown businesses in an interactive experience. More than 25 businesses host artists including painters, jewelers, sculptors, photographers, and more.

5. Art connections

Many downtown events feature local artists and artisans showcasing their work. Small businesses can benefit from these events by collaborating with artists to create unique, limited-edition products or hosting art exhibits within their stores. Bringing in art not only enhances the aesthetics of the business but also attracts art enthusiasts and supporters of the local arts scene—and promotes the business’s image as a place of creativity and culture. These partnerships can also extend to cross-promotion, where a business and an artist publicize each other’s work through various channels. That can expand the reach of both parties and reinforce their commitment to support local talent and contribute to a sense of community pride.
In addition, businesses can consider hosting collaborative art projects during an event to encourage people to slow down and stay longer in a store. Art projects can start conversations, create a sense of community, and spark intergenerational activities. Examples include drawing sidewalk chalk murals, setting out art supplies for impromptu drawings, offering a coloring contest for children, or planning an outdoor mural and encouraging people to add their artistic touches as they walk by. Keep in mind that art comes in all forms. If your business isn’t suited for landscape paintings, maybe a temporary tattoo artist is a good match for you!

Fond du Lac’s Witches Day Out

During Fond du Lac’s Witches Day Out, downtown businesses offer Halloween-related in-store specials, tarot card readings, themed art classes, a spooky selfie station, a costume contest, and more.

6. In-store presentations

Businesses that offer their own in-store activities—such as workshops, product demonstrations, or even live performances—that align with the theme or timing of downtown events can attract attendees to come inside. This gives the business a chance to showcase their products, share their expertise, and build relationships with potential customers. By providing value through educational or entertaining experiences, businesses can leave a lasting impression and inspire visitors to become loyal customers. Often, in-store events lead to word-of-mouth marketing as people talk up their positive experiences with friends and family, further amplifying the business’s reach.

Osceola’s Doe on the Go event

During Osceola’s Doe on the Go event, shoppers can enjoy s’mores as they warm up by a firepit, and they can take photos in front of a festive holiday backdrop.

7. Specialized products and services

Businesses should think creatively about how they can contribute to the event experience and make it even better. One strategy is to tailor their services to align with the event’s theme or target audience. For example, for a music festival, a coffee shop could offer custom festival-themed drinks; a restaurant could offer a special menu with dishes inspired by the event’s theme. Food and drink establishments could extend their hours to cater to event-goers. For an art fair, a business could host live art demonstrations or workshops. By providing event-related services or unique experiences, a business can enhance the event’s overall atmosphere and position the business as an integral part of the downtown community. By creating memorable connections, your business can increase its chances of gaining repeat customers based on these positive experiences and associations.

Creating interactive experiences or installations can also capture attendees’ attention and encourage their participation. Consider setting up photo booths, interactive displays, or games that are aligned with your brand and the event’s theme. These experiences not only engage visitors but also create shareable moments that can amplify brand exposure on social media. Encourage attendees to share their experience using event hashtags and tagging the business to further expand reach and visibility.

Businesses could also offer new products geared to the event that are only available for a limited time. For example, restaurants or cafes can feature pumpkin or apple foods and beverages for a fall event, retail shops can offer branded wine glasses for wine walks, and local breweries can create a beer brewed and named for a concert in the park.

Downtown Menomonie partners with Menomonie Minute to promote downtown events.

Downtown Menomonie partners with Menomonie Minute to promote downtown events.

8. Media publicity

Building relationships with local media representatives is another effective strategy for small businesses to increase their exposure during downtown events. Businesses can contact newspapers, radio stations, or online publications with a press release or a story pitch highlighting their participation in the event. This proactive approach can lead to media coverage that features the business’s involvement, products, or unique offerings. Being featured in local media raises brand awareness and also positions the business as an active contributor to the local community, enhancing its reputation and credibility. Businesses can leverage any coverage they receive by sharing it on their social media platforms or their website.

Sandwich Bar in downtown Janesville

Sandwich Bar in downtown Janesville uses its Facebook page to promote Music at the Marv and to highlight its vendor tent at the concert.

9. Social media

Social media platforms offer a powerful tool for small businesses to amplify the effects of participating in downtown events. Post on your social media platforms before, during, and after the event to generate buzz and engage with the event’s audience. This can include setting up event-specific hashtags; sharing updates and behind-the-scenes content; responding to event-related posts by commenting, liking, and sharing; encouraging attendees to tag and share their experience; or creating contests and giveaways related to the event. By using event-specific hashtags and sharing updates, businesses can generate excitement and anticipation among their online followers. By livestreaming or issuing real-time updates during the event, businesses can foster inclusivity by enabling participation of those who can’t attend in person. Encouraging event attendees to tag and share their experiences invites user-generated content that further promotes the business and the event.

Downtown Fond du Lac businesses

Downtown Fond du Lac businesses offer special promotions and discounts to Farmers Market attendees who bring designated tote bags into their shops during the market hours.

10. Promotions and discounts

Offer specials and discounts specifically tailored to the event. This strategy incentivizes attendees to visit the business and make purchases during or after the event. By creating exclusive offers tied to the event, businesses can create a sense of urgency and generate increased foot traffic. Businesses can distribute event-specific coupons or discount codes through the event organizers or local partners as an additional incentive. These event-specific promotions can be communicated through various channels—such as social media, email newsletters, or the event website—and businesses can display signage and distribute flyers to attract attention.

In addition, businesses can partner with other local companies to create bundled promotions or to promote each other’s offerings, providing a mutually beneficial opportunity to attract a wider customer base. This strategy not only drives immediate sales but also encourages attendees to visit your business again in the future, establishing long-term customer relationships.


No matter which way businesses choose to take advantage of downtown event traffic, it is essential that they also use the opportunity to gather valuable feedback from customers. Collect customer data through sign-up sheets, digital forms, or QR codes. By conducting surveys or simply engaging in conversations with event attendees, businesses can gain insights into consumer preferences, expectations, and experiences. In addition, businesses can offer incentives, such as an entry in a giveaway or exclusive access to future events, in exchange for their information. This feedback serves as a valuable resource for businesses to understand their target audience better and to refine their offerings accordingly. It also allows businesses to follow up with attendees after the event, nurturing relationships and continuing the conversation.

Businesses can send personalized thank-you emails, exclusive offers, or event updates to stay connected and reinforce the brand’s presence in the minds of customers. The input collected can inform future product purchases, marketing strategies, or event participation, helping businesses stay relevant and competitive. Additionally, businesses can publicize positive customer feedback as testimonials or reviews on their website, social media platforms, or marketing materials. Showcasing authentic customer experiences can boost credibility and attract new customers.

Playing a role in downtown events presents small businesses with a valuable opportunity to connect with their local community, boost visibility, and cultivate brand loyalty. By participating as a sponsor or as a vendor; forging partnerships; hosting pop-up events, sidewalk sales, or pop-up markets; collaborating with local artists; organizing in-store events; providing event-related services, experiences, or products; lining up interviews with local media outlets; leveraging social media and event hashtags; offering event-specific promotions or discounts; and collecting customer data for follow-up, small businesses can effectively engage with downtown events.

Businesses should embrace these strategies to maximize their impact, create memorable experiences, attract new customers, and solidify their position as an integral part of the vibrant downtown scene.

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