You’ve tried everything to get locals to come out to downtown businesses, but have you bribed them with cookies?? These jewels were at the Hotel Pattee, Perry, Iowa. Photo (CC) by Sheila Scarborough.
Our friend Maury Forman of Washington state, sent us this idea from Madras, Washington:
On February 16 the Madras Downtown Association and Petite Sweets hosted the first-ever Cookie Crawl. Participants paid $5 and received a box and map that listed all the locations where the beautifully decorated cookies were available. Petite Sweets decorated cookies to match or represent the business.
For example, the barber shop offered a cookie that looked like a barber pole
and Windemere Real Estate distributed cookies with a for-sale sign.
Organizer Whitney Stubblefield said the event was a great way to encourage the residents who usually do not appear at community events into the downtown businesses.
Sweet! It’s not just a way to get people into businesses, it gives them a chance to talk to each other, with cookies. I don’t even think the cookies have to match the businesses. It would be fun to get all kinds of home-made or random cookies from everyone.
Rather than seek outside funding to get started, Shawn Anderson grew his kettle corn business from his yard and on the road before buying an existing business in Webster City, Iowa. Photos via Deb Brown.
If you need outside funding to get to the next step in your rural small business, your next step is too big.
Before you bet big on your business idea, test it with small steps. Make some sales from your front yard, then try a booth, then a trailer, then think about moving up to a small building.
Before you borrow money to buy a new piece of equipment, find a smaller step you can take. Borrow or rent equipment temporarily. Share equipment with another business, splitting the cost. Subcontract out that part of production to another business. Redesign your product or process so you don’t need that equipment after all.
Before you go into debt to fix up an older building, think smaller. Find a tiny space to occupy first. Share space with an existing business. Go mobile. Open smaller in a few towns rather than bet everything on a single location.
Go Small or Go Home
This is some hard-won rural wisdom. Better to stay small than go into big debt. Expect that you’ll face some zero income times. Don’t take on more responsibilities than you can cover. Be ready for banks to be bought out, loan portfolios to be sold and resold to unsympathetic lenders. These are part of the Small Town Rules: Be Small to Grow Big, and Plan for Zero.
Have you taken small steps?
If you have a story about taking small steps to stay independent, I’d love to hear about it.
Easy summer business for teens: helping seniors with their cell phones.
Looking for the perfect instant summer business idea for young entrepreneurs? Try phone clinics.
I saw this idea pop-up in a meeting that involved a cross section of the town of Cathlamet, Washington. People of all ages were there: students from the high school, county commissioners, chamber of commerce members. One of the adults was lamenting that they didn’t know how to fix a certain annoying problem with their phone.
“That’s easy,” one of the students said. “I’ll help you after this is over.”
Immediately other adults spoke up. They had phone issues, too! Could they get help?
That’s a business idea! With just a sign and a couple of chairs, any tech savvy person could set up a booth at an event. Set a price by the job or by time.
Castle Rock, Washington, takes beautification seriously. This storage lot sits smack dab in the middle of their beautiful downtown. This is how it looked before they turned it into an art gallery. Photo by Nancy Chennault.
You’ve seen it before: a chain link fence right in the middle of a downtown. Usually there’s barbed wire at the top. Let’s face it, barbed wire is not the friendliest look for a downtown. We can do better.
Why chain link in the first place?
When a business ends up with an empty lot they can use for storage downtown, there’s a strong drive to fence it off and protect their goods. Chain link topped with barbed wire is cheap and easy.
Businesses still need to store things. No one wants to spend a lot of money to replace the fence with something friendlier. Heck, we don’t even want to spend money at all if we can avoid it.
How could you make it look better?
A whole group of us brainstormed some ideas for you:
Add colorful slats in rainbow patterns, waves, words or logos
Frame art and hang it from the chain link, inside or outside
Hang twinkle lights from the fence and barbed wire
Twist wire foil tinsel garland around the barbed wire
Hang whirly gigs or streamers to dance in the wind
Set up a sculpture display in front of the fence (most fences are usually set back from the property line) or just behind the fence
Create cut-out art to hang on the fence
Hang some wayfinding signs to direct people to cool things around town
The Boise, Idaho, water reclamation plant features this chain link fence mural. The colors are little cups designed to pop right into the chain link spaces. Photo by Becky McCray.
The Stream of Dreams “mural” made up of individual painted fish shapes dresses up the fence alongside the school buildings in Castle Rock, Washington. Learn more about Stream of Dreams. Photo by Nancy Chennault.
How Castle Rock, Washington, made chain link fences into art galleries
When I visited Castle Rock, I pointed out the storage lot next the hardware store that in the photo at the top of this story. It’s not going to go away, so why not use it to hang art? Turns out they already had some kids’ art hanging on chain link fences, just around the corner in a less-visible place. So they moved it and added a big way-finding arrow to point out nearby attractions.
Originally, the art squares were hanging in a hard-to-find location. See those slats in the fence? You could easily use slats to be more artistic with rainbow patterns or logos. Photo by Becky McCray.
The students helped move their artwork to the highly-visible location downtown. Photo by Nancy Chennault.
The art now includes a big arrow to point folks to the nearby wildlife pond and the old jail park. You hardly notice the fence or wire at all now. Photo by Nancy Chennault.
Have you seen any good chain link art?
I’d love to see photos of dressed-up chain link fences you’ve seen anywhere. Share the ideas so we can inspire even more small towns to more beautiful fences.
Unless you’re talking about milking, why are you using a three legged stool to describe it?
There are dozens and dozens of 3 legged stool analogies. The Three Legged Stool of Retirement Planning …of Politics …of Sustainability …of Accounting …of Organizational Architecture.
And all the headlines: Why Leadership is Like a Three Legged Stool. Apple’s three-legged stool at WWDC 2019. ‘The three-legged stool’: McDonald’s recipe for franchise success.
Think about it, when is the last time you saw an actual stool with three legs? Almost all stools have four legs now. Bar stools? Four legs.
Why do we still say three legged stool?
Three legged stools used to be associated with milking cows. Back when everyone had some kind of farm background, most everyone had probably handled one. I’m not sure I’ve ever owned one. My grandparents might have had one.
When I was researching this, the top suggested search question around 3 legged stools was, “What is a 3 legged stool?” Apparently, a lot of people are confused by the phrase. The next suggested question was “Why does a 3 legged stool wobble?” Apparently, people who do find one, find it unstable.
We like concepts with three parts. There’s something satisfying about it being an odd number and only a few things. Even my own Idea Friendly Method has three parts.
We just need a better way to describe our three-part ideas than three legged stool.
What to say instead
Why not use a more up to date model of 3 legs? Let’s say a tripod. That has three legs and is much more familiar.
Almost everyone today has seen a photographer using a tripod. News cameras are often shown on tripods. Video cameras use tripods. Lots of people own at least one tripod. I counted ten in my house, from tiny ones for my phone to heavy duty ones for my big DSLR camera.
You can probably use that in your analogy, that there are all sizes of tripods for different size ideas.
You could even get your hands on a tiny pocket-sized tripod to show to people when you talk about your famous three part idea.
As a bonus, you can talk about how photographers may carry their cameras when they’re shooting quickly and informally. But when they want to be stable, they use a tripod. Can you see a similar theme in your three part idea?
No more three legged stools, OK? Stick with tripods.
Thanks to Kathleen Minogue of Crowdfund Better for the conversation that inspired this post.
Is there any good news about small towns? Do small towns have a future for our young people? Photo of youth at Eagle Butte, South Dakota via USDA
Guest post by Paula Jensen
I remember in 1997, just following the birth of my second son, when more than one elder in my community told me, “It is so sad that your children will never graduate from Langford High School like you did!” Those comments told me that the local leaders were questioning my decision to return to my hometown and had lost all hope in their community and themselves. Well I am pleased to say, now 20 years later, that the prediction made by those folks has not come true. I could go on and on about the growth, development, and community pride that has erupted across Marshall County, South Dakota in opposition to those dire comments made two decades ago.
Echoing what Becky McCray says, pretty much all my life, I’ve been told that small towns are dying, drying up, and disappearing, and that there’s nothing we can do to change it. But what if, just once, there was some good news about rural communities? Guess what, there is! Big trends are moving in our favor:
Trend #1 – brain gain (youth returning home after getting education)
Trend #2 – changing retail dynamics (entrepreneurship is on the rise)
Trend #3 – new travel motivations (people love getting away from the city to visit)
Trend #4 – declining cost of distance (people can work from anywhere)
Trend #5 – creative placemaking (adding quality of life amenities to our towns)
During most of my years in Marshall County, the population has followed typical national trends. In 1970, Marshall County had 5,885 people; we hit our lowest population mark in 2009 at 4,160, which was a 30% decline in our county-wide population. However, since 2009 our county-wide population has reached 4,801, which shows a 13% gain in population. Our trend line is moving upward and this is uncommon in rural places from a national perspective. In my day-to-day work across rural South Dakota I have observed pockets of growth in other rural communities, much like Marshall County. The commonalities I witness is that these unique rural places have strong leadership and care about what their small town will look like in 30 or 100 years from now.
What is creative placemaking, you ask? Zachary Mannheimer defined it like this, “Basically, it means, how you enrich a community through cultural and entrepreneurial ideas.”
For the most part he explained that it’s been done in urban areas, but not a lot has been done in rural areas. He identified the future population trends that are emerging and how he sees the future of our country moving toward rural areas because of urban population growth and they are running out of space. Places that were once out in the sticks are going to be part of urban areas. This is going to be happening in the next 30 years. Is your small town prepared? If we aren’t prepared for the shift, we are going to lose out on potential social and economic growth. Rural city and county leaders, economic development corporations, and others need to begin planning to adapt now and create amenities that people are looking for or we will struggle to remain a vibrant rural community.
My County is on the right track with new development, entrepreneurship, strong philanthropy, inclining population, strong schools, recreation opportunities, and so much more. But we must all step up as local leaders to support improvements and growth. Our small towns don’t need to spend any more time in the past. Things will never go back to the way they used to be. We need to start from here and keep moving forward toward a bright future that provides opportunities for our youth to return and a place where new residents want to live and contribute. Enormous changes are coming our way in rural places and our future has never looked brighter. Let’s lead the way and extend the life expectancy of our community! #Iamrural