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After almost a year, the Downtown Vandalia Partnership met Monday, Feb. 22 at the Kaskaskia College Education Center. The organization, formed nearly a year ago, had not met due to the coronavirus pandemic.
After a representative came to Vandalia from the Retail Academy, based in Birmingham, AL, visited Vandalia in 2019, then Amber Daulbaugh, economic development director, attended a workshop to more fully understand the scope of the consultant’s work.
A local meeting was held which had 30 businesses attended, who came up with a list of Vandalia’s greatest strength and needs, compiled in a Downtown Vision report, a comprehensive plan, adopted by the council in 2019. Under the category of economic development, one of the objectives was to form a downtown organization, dedicated to developing idea to continue to develop the downtown area.
The goal of the meeting on February 22 was to follow up with those businesses who had expressed interest last year, and to brainstorm and implement ideas on what those business wanted to see happen in the downtown area.
To begin the meeting, Daulbaugh reminded those gathered that in the first meeting last year, the group had named the highways and interstates, the historic downtown and the schools as being the top three assets the city has in attracting future development. Daulbaugh said weaknesses the group pointed out last year were retention of business, unemployment and retaining the younger residents in the community.
Daulbaugh went on to review what some businesses have already done, including the Charters patio, developed by Willms and Associates, hosting some bands last year. This year, the attraction will host bands on a weekly basis, sponsored by local businesses.
Daulbaugh also recognized that downtown buildings are also being revitalized, including Atlas 46, a company which supplies hand-stitched gear and work-gear, scheduled to open in just a couple of months in what was an empty downtown storefront. That business promises to bring a multitude of jobs with it, as well as opening other locations in empty storefront in the town.
Daulbaugh went on to remind those attending, that the main things in the collective suggestions of what residents want to see are more unique shops, outdoor dining and restaurants.
But what more can be done to attract these things? Daulbaugh suggested existing businesses foster pop-up, or temporary, shops in their locales, to let those small businesses see if they could make it in a downtown location. She suggested these pop-ups be sponsored during special events, such as the Olde Tyme Christmas. She also suggested the group plan quarterly events, to bring additional foot traffic to the downtown.
The director also mentioned that when Farmers Markets and like events occur, those vendors attending should be asked if they might be interested in a storefront. “That’s how we expand,” she explained.
Angie Rhodes, owner of Gallatin Street Grill, commented to those gathered that in addition to attracting new events and business, the city should also be concerned with “taking care of what we already have. We have things here, we have restaurants.”
Amy Gaffney, of the Blind Society and The Copper Penny, agreed with holding more events, stating that she sees many out-of-towners who eat at her restaurants, but there is nothing else for them to do in town.
Daulbaugh said this is the reason for the proposed quarterly meetings, and that the businesses must “work together as one downtown voice.”
Daulbaugh also put Sarah Hill, of Beauty Mark, on the spot, as she was asked why she was planning on moving to downtown.
“I see growth in downtown and being invited to this meeting makes me feel good,” she said. “There is not much business from Interstate travel, that’s why we are moving,” she said. Beauty Mark is currently on New York Drive, across from Vandalia Elementary School.
Based on types of businesses the community would like to see come to the city, Daulbaugh suggested home furnishings, lawn and garden, clothing and restaurants be encouraged to locate here.
The group will next meet at another meeting, which will be announced.