Clean and Green: Shopping in the 21st Century

by Bruce W. Hall

The days of clunky, industrial downtowns is rapidly drawing to a close. New England manufacturing communities know it. Southern textile towns know it. Smokestack laden municipalities in the Great Lakes region know it. Seaside, logging ports in the Pacific Northwest are coming to terms with it, too. The same mills, plants, and belching furnaces so indicative of post war success during the mid-20th century also buried downtowns in grime, noise, and smoke.

Here in Port Angeles, for example, logging trucks thundered through city center all day long, rattling plate glass windows. They left a continuous haze of dust and pollution in their wake that far exceeded any of todayís acceptable EPA standards. Sidewalk communications drowned in a sea of engine noise and Jake Brakes. Furthermore, an abundance of cigarette butts, chewing gum, and other debris frequently littered sidewalks, gutters, and alleyways.

How dramatically things have changed. A whole new attitude prevails. Itís clean! Itís green! Itís so 21st century! Now, curb appeal counts. A pleasing visual field is important. Quality and professionalism are vital and need to be projected because consumers do evaluate appearance. In fact, first impressions can have a significant impact. For example, studies show, approximately 55% of first impressions are based on how a business storefront looks, and people often decide whether or not they will do business with you, in seconds.

Pressure to compete in todayís marketplace is tremendous. Your customers have access to merchandise, worldwide, anytime via the Internet. Local Big Box stores compete for the rest. Thatís why a downtownís visual appeal?storefronts in particular?is so important. Everything matters. Product, price, and selection are part of the equation. So too, is parking. However, most importantly, a strong retail impression reflects community image. What do locals think of your downtown? How does it look, feel, and resonate to them?

Is your sidewalk clean and free of litter? Are old flyers and posters still in your windows? How up-to-date is your awning or faÁade? Are the flags fresh and clean? Are store hours posted? Can potential customers see inside your business? Clean windows with an unobstructed view of a storeís interior can make a great first impression. Put yourself in a customerís place. If property attractiveness is a sign of quality and professionalism, is the initial appearance of your building and store inviting and welcoming to them?

Warm summer days present your downtown with higher levels of foot traffic. What will the experience be like for potential customers? Will they feel compelled to come in, or pass on by?

Every town faces change and contentious issues. Shifts in demographics, competition, and market realities create an atmosphere of tension and division. Therefore, many people with lots of ideas start thinking and planning. There is an abundance of vision and possibilities and many subsequent committees. Some industrious individuals organize and buildings are cleaned and painted. Clearly, this is a very important start. However, itís only the beginning.

In order to build momentum, to improve the quality of the downtown core, individual visions must be united into one shared plan. Vision is good, but not in a hundred different directions at once. Merchants must join together, not to illuminate differences, but to underline new possibilities for the future.

Many improvements have successfully been accomplished in recent years, however, for the most part, it was done on a project-by-project basis. Now is the time to achieve momentum. This can only be attained with full attendance at committee meetings and discussion groups, a clean, green retail mentality, and strong focus on a shared vision. These are the ties that bind a downtown community together, and ultimately, will determine the extent of its fate.

Copyright © 2009, by Bruce W. Hall. All rights reserved.

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