MONTROSE – Since Montrose was founded 130 years ago, downtown has helped shape the community’s identity, strengthening bonds between residents and fueling economic success with jobs. Since the start of the Great Recession, residents have witnessed an ever-changing landscape in the downtown area. Businesses that invested decades ago in downtown Montrose began to swap buildings, searching for lower rent before closing altogether. Others have fallen to the conveniences of an online marketplace and "big box" retail stores and the perception arose that that the best days of downtown were long gone.
But take a look around downtown Montrose today and residents can see, with a trained eye, that those “for sale” and "for rent" signs are slowing fading away.
In 2011, businesses within the 136-acre boundary known as the Montrose Downtown Development District recorded sales totaling $54,451,209. That number could grow by the end of this year, with the addition of new businesses and the promotional efforts by the Montrose Downtown Development Association. Since the DDA began some two-and-a-half-years ago, about forty new businesses have opened in an attempt to revive downtown.
DDA Executive Director Scott Shine said the perception of downtown is changing. His group is working to become a business advocate for local entrepreneurs and small businesses owners who see downtown Montrose as a place to thrive.
"The DDA is getting a reputation now by putting our name out there, and so people are contacting us and saying, ‘I'm interested in doing X, and I need about 2,500 square feet; I'd like to be in this area or this area."
“I'm then able to go out and can find something and send it to them and say here are your options," Shine said.
Shine said that by reaching out to both small business entrepreneurs and property owners, the DDA is able to "get the ball rolling," helping new businesses get established and decreasing vacancies throughout the DDA district.
"We're not brokering deals; we’re just putting people in contact with each other to meet their specific needs and build that relationship," Shine said.
One such new business is the Tattered Rabbit, which opened in early August selling new and used children's clothes and other items, at 305 East Main Street. The boutique is owned by Pam Dunlap, who runs the business with her daughter-in-law, Chelsie.
Dunlap said she had always wanted to open a shop in downtown Montrose, but the right space wasn't available. So she opened her store in Delta, and would drive to Montrose throughout the summer, on Thursdays, to run a booth at Main in Motion.
On one of those Thursday evening visits, Dunlap and her husband Dan were walking along Main when they ran into Nina Suzanne, owner of Nina Suzanne's at 336 East Main.
"[Nina] told us she was glad that working with the DDA was very positive," Dunlap said.
Taking Suzanne’s advice, Dunlap walked across the street to an empty storefront, wrote down the phone number posted there, and rented the space the next day.
"Not many people can say they broke a lease to be here," Dunlap said.
Dunlap largely credits the actions of the DDA and Shine for working to make the Tattered Rabbit one of 19 new businesses to have opened downtown this year.
"It's really hard to build a business in this economy anyway; it's difficult under the best of circumstances, and to have people like Scott who jumps through hoops to help you out, it's just amazing,” Dunlap said. “The DDA helped us settle in, answered questions, and they would come in a talk to us about different advertising campaigns that we could do and option. You don't feel like you’re out there all alone. Scott is good at it; it's his full time job, and he's worth the check.”
The DDA has also worked, in recent years, to create and promote downtown businesses through events and festivals, trying to bring shoppers back to the city’s core, according to DDA Board President Bob Brown, who also owns Around the Corner Art Gallery at 447 East Main.
"If you set up your business, we're going to work hard to bring people downtown, and we have been able to do that," Brown said. In addition to promotions, he added, the DDA has been able to secure grants and raise other funds to create a DDA loan program for small business owners and entrepreneurs with matching grants from the USDA.
"We now have $150,000 to loan out, and to loan carefully, at a low interest rate to help businesses mainly do improvements, like like facade restoration," Brown said.
"Once we begin to see growth and people see what's unique about us -- our heritage, who are we, what’s unique about us, our locally owned businesses, our historic buildings -- Montrose will be in a position for additional growth," Shine said.
On Saturday Nov. 24, the downtown district will be participating in Small Business Saturday, a nationwide effort in support of local economies. Shine said last year over 100 million people nationwide shopped local businesses.
For up-to-date news from the DDA visit: www.montrosedowntown.com.
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