Selling downtown | August 15, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Cover Story - August 15, 2008

Selling downtown

New campaign urges everyone to 'Shop Danville'

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Downtown merchants love Stacy Passeri. When she wants to enjoy a meal out with the family, she heads for Hartz. When she wants to shop - alone or with her daughters, 13 and 14 - she drives to downtown Danville.

Passeri, an organizational consultant who lives on the east side of Danville, said she likes the convenience of downtown and feels the stores offer everything she wants. She's shopped in Walnut Creek but prefers Danville.

"I got tired of not finding something unique," she said. "And here I get to know the stores."

She'll also head downtown for a girls night out.

"My girlfriends and I want to go local," she said.

Although residents say they love downtown Danville - and Realtors report it's definitely a draw - not everyone knows what it has to offer.

"We kept hearing from downtown Danville businesses, 'People don't know where we are,'" said Jill Bergman, Economic Development Coordinator for Danville.

The town produced an Economic Development Strategy in 2006 to promote awareness of businesses and encourage residents to patronize them, for the overall good of the community's economy. When Bergman stepped into the coordinator position last year she was able to see the problem with fresh eyes, she said.

Danville has a lot to offer with its unique, independently owned shops and its top-rated and family-friendly restaurants. Plus it has a relaxed hometown feel with a sense of style. But its residents often go elsewhere to shop.

"We have leakage, retail leakage," Bergman remembered observing.

The participants were in place to promote Danville: the town, the Danville Area Chamber of Commerce, and Discover Danville, an association of downtown merchants who work together to market themselves. Its slogan is "small town charm, sophisticated choices."

In April the town hired the Placemaking Group to analyze the businesses areas to find out how to attract customers and therefore more revenue for the entire area through taxes.

The marketing plan, financed by the town and the Danville Area Chamber of Commerce at just under $30,000, will include Alamo Plaza, Blackhawk Plaza, Tassajara Crossings and the new Rose Garden Shopping Center. But it began with a focus on downtown Danville to see who its customers are and what could be done to make it the preferred place for shopping, eating and doing business.

"We took a look at what's here," recalled Dennis Erokan, president of Placemaking Group, and a former resident of Danville. "We wanted to get a sense of why people shop or do not shop in Danville, especially downtown Danville."

The group conducted part of the survey Saturday afternoons, he said, and found people shopping both who live in Danville and who come from other communities.

"During the fact gathering process, existing consumers clearly articulated that Danville already has the building blocks needed to raise it profile," stated the report. "It is an attractive community … that is conducive to both strolling and shopping."

Erokan made three points:

1. People want to shop where it's convenient;

2. When shoppers have something specific in mind, they will go wherever that is; and

3. All over the United States, if a downtown has character, people will go to it.

Shopping malls have peaked in this country, he noted, and everyone wants a downtown. He mentioned a friend who is a mall architect and must go to Asia to find business.

Downtown Danville is prime, he said, because it has charm and history, the area is attractive and accessible, plus it has parking. But, the study said, residents are not choosing the Danville area as their first choice for shopping and dining but are going to other East Bay cities, such as Walnut Creek and Pleasanton.

"Survey findings revealed that most consumers are unaware of the retail choices available in Danville and perceive that retail is expensive," according to the summary of the market analysis. "Very few can name more than one or two retail stores. … Both men and women do go downtown for the purpose of eating at specific restaurants."

"People know they want the ambience of what downtown Danville has but we found they didn't know the breadth of downtown," Erokan said.

He concluded that in Danville, women were "in charge" of the downtown experience. Men would come for lunch with their kids - many in soccer uniforms - but then would leave.

"We found two main groups shopping in the downtown: mothers and daughters, and what we call 'ladies who lunch,'" he said.

Among the ladies who lunch, many were friends from other areas, meeting up in Danville.

"The first time we saw this, we talked to two woman who said one came from Castro Valley and one from Martinez to meet for lunch," recalled Erokan. They were staying to shop and then their husbands were coming to meet them for dinner.

"Our advice is to target the ladies who lunch and they will bring everyone with them," said Erokan, "because of Danville's charm."

He also noted that a downtown which works needs to have the "one more thing" factor. This means that while people are already there shopping they will say to themselves, "I wonder if they have…"

Other East Bay locales are also spending time and money to market their downtowns, which can pull customers away from Danville. The Walnut Creek Downtown Business Association recently launched its campaign: "Escape the ordinary - downtown - at the Creek." The Pleasanton Downtown Association is marketing itself as a vacation destination. It has signed up 100 of its businesses for a gift card program, to compete against Stoneridge Shopping Center. As in Danville, it works against the perception that things are more expensive downtown.

"We ask people to take a month and say they have to buy everything they use from someone downtown," said association executive director Christine Salidivar.

Perceptions are half the battle, she noted.

"People think there's no parking," she said. "Give me a break. Go to the mall, where you walk a mile just from your car in the parking lot. Wouldn't you rather walk on tree-lined streets than in a parking lot?"

Danville deals with the parking issue also.

"We found people will walk three blocks - but they would rather walk one," said Erokan.

"Parking has certainly improved over the years," said Linda Stolow, owner of Small Fry Shoppe on Railroad Avenue.

"The Front Street Parking Lot is still being discovered," she said. "The town went to a lot of trouble to purchase it, move people out, and put parking in a good location."

Stolow has been active in Discover Danville.

"Basically we want to brand Danville," she said. "That's how Discover Danville started out four or five years ago."

She said the Town Council has been supportive of its goals.

"They have changed the zoning to get more contiguous retail," Stolow explained. When a commercial business leaves, there is a time limit to rent it to another commercial venture but then the space must revert to retail.

She's hoping that locals will become reacquainted with the Danville because of gas prices and an awareness of it benefiting the community.

"When you spend your money in your own town, a percentage of it goes back into your own community," she said.

She feels people in Danville are informed and want value for their money, which is why stores that offer value and good service are successful.

"People here are educated, informed and quick to go on the computer for information," she said. "When they find good value, they come back."

Placemaking Group recommended focusing on events, involving merchants and business owners, and adding even more special activities to draw visitors.

To this end, Discover Danville hosted three new "shop local first" nights on Thursdays this summer - Summer Serenade on July 10; Summer Fest Street Festival on Aug. 7; and the fifth annual Art and Wine Stroll last night, Aug. 14. The events all offered food, wine, live music and entertainment, and tied in with the Thursday evening farmers market. The LPGA tournament at Blackhawk Country Club being held Oct. 9-12 will be another chance to market Danville.

Business results from events are hard to gauge. People may not shop right then, but they may make note of the stores to return another time. Bergman said they are educating stores to stay open these nights. "Act like you're there," she tells them.

Placemaking Group concluded that "The town has style," which is reflected in the logo it developed: "Shop Danville - in style every day." This appears on cloth shopping bags being sold for $2 at the Danville Farmers Market and by some stores. The town financed "Carrot Cash," giving out $2,000 at the Thursday evening events in $5 certificates redeemable at participating stores and the farmers market.

The study also recommended working with the merchant community by evaluating the stores' hours and exploring training opportunities for merchants.

"We have stores that are hobby-based businesses, not their livelihood," said Bergman.

In September the town will offer a class on the importance of e-commerce, a sort of Retail 101.

The focus now is on the new all-inclusive Shop Danville Web site, which will work as "information central," listing every retailer, restaurant and service in Danville and linking to their sites. It will eventually include a calendar and news from all the shopping centers in the Danville area. In July the Town Council approved $30,000 to create the site, and it hopes the site will be up and running by the holiday shopping season.

The marketing plan includes improved signs in Danville, and working to improve foot traffic by updating the downtown walking map and putting it on the new Web site, and developing a publicity plan. In the 2008-09 budget, Danville approved $65,060 for a variety of events and promotions that will take place throughout the year.

Last Thursday in the early afternoon, things were busy downtown. Karen Chubb and her daughter Shelbie, Pleasanton residents, parked in the Front Street Parking Lot and headed downtown for some back-to-school shopping.

"Danville has a few more boutiques," said Karen Chubb, explaining why they drove past the mall to shop in Danville. She knows the stores because she comes to Danville to get her hair cut.

On Hartz Avenue, women were perusing the racks at a going-out-of-business sale at Girlfriends.

One was Sharon Dotson, who lives in south Walnut Creek but works at Athenian School in the summer and likes to shop in Danville.

"I like to support the local merchants," she said.

Maura Mendoza had come from Moraga. She said she shops regularly at the Livery, and she and her husband and friends meet in Danville often to eat dinner.

But it was a Thursday and summer is drawing to a close so people may be back from vacations and preparing for school, noted Stolow, which could have accounted for all the activity. Plus that evening was Summer Fest.

The goal is for downtown Danville to have that buzz every day.

Reasons to shop downtown

* For every $100 spent at a locally owned business, $45 stays in the local economy, creating jobs and expanding the tax base.

* Personal service and expertise.

* Contribution to the town's distinctive character.

* More diversity leads to more choices.

* Less waste, more efficiency.

Jill Bergman, Danville Economic Development Coordinator


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