Olde Towne Arvada collaborates to help businesses survive
Creative collaborations and new special promotions with free delivery blossomed with owners of other eclectic small businesses
As co-owners of a small business less than a year old in Olde Town Arvada, husband and wife Casey and Emelye Adler allowed themselves two days of panic at the start of the pandemic-initiated shutdowns. They could no longer depend on their marketing mainstays of walk-in traffic, sales for catered special events and social-gathering tastings in their 1,000-square-foot downtown shop, Spirits Wine Provisions.
So, they got busy and creative.
Within 72 hours they created an online website sales presence and a concierge delivery service. They started a GoFundMe campaign called Support Our Bartenders that offered special spirits and raised almost $4,000 to assist all the service staff at two restaurants in Olde Town that had supported their fledging business last summer.
Creative collaborations and new special promotions with free delivery blossomed with owners of other eclectic small businesses. The packaged offerings with adult beverages and wares from multiple stores included a Homeschooling Survival Kit, Mother’s Day baskets, Father’s Day whiskey and cigar kits, and “quarantini” cocktail supplies with links to instructional videos by local bartenders who could be tipped online.
The couple said the close-knit community of independent businesses in downtown Arvada always supported and looked out for each other, but the pandemic heightened those bonds.
“We couldn’t allow other businesses to shutter. That wasn’t an option,” Casey Adler said. “So, we brainstormed any idea we could and wanted to make sure we did everything we could to help others and ourselves survive.”
That collaborative spirit is exemplary of the efforts that Colorado downtown business districts composed of small businesses with limited cash reserves will need to recover from pandemic repercussions.
Downtowns are cohesive communities of businesses and employers tied together by geography and history as well as shared marketing power, experts say. More than just shopping, downtowns offer everything from special events to tourist attractions. Economic recovery for town centers must be more cooperative, flexible and imaginative than for big-box or franchise stores.
“While individual businesses can sell products online, districts are actually marketing the place and the sense of community and engagement that a place offers,” said Katherine Correll, executive director of nonprofit Downtown Colorado Inc., which is hosting weekly pandemic response calls and posting recovery resources online. “The downtown and commercial district recovery effort will certainly depend on the individual entreprenuers but also on the flexibility and responsiveness of the local government and the broader community.”
Joe Hengstler, executive director of Olde Town Arvada Business Improvement District, said although downtown districts in Colorado can be very different, what they have in common is “they represent the heart and soul of their communities.” The well-being of a vibrant downtown can be a leading indicator of the economic health of a community.
While businesses in general have beefed up websites, started curbside service and moved to virtual meetings, downtown organizations have taken bigger steps such as resurrecting drive-in movies, offering online concerts, organizing virtual auctions and closing streets to traffic. From mid-June through Labor Day, Olde Town Arvada will close three blocks to offer more outdoor seating for restaurants and sales space for stores, Hengstler said.
Despite best efforts, experts say some independent businesses may not last through pandemic recovery.
“Sadly, projections are that many businesses will not survive despite the dynamic and creative innovations that are being developed,” Correll said. “Some challenges districts will need to address for recovery include vacant buildings, a local population that is hesitatant to shop or dine in-person, and the pros and cons of tourism or visitors.”
Consultant Brad Segal, president of Progressive Urban Management Associates in Denver, said an assumption of a 12- to 18-month recovery period means that downtown organizations and civic partners “will need to pivot resources.” Segal said some suggestions include allowing flexibility for pop-up shops, fashioning shared storefronts to decrease overhead, lowering of commercial rents by property owners, experimenting with pilot programs with expedited municipal permitting, sharing commercial kitchens and broadening the use of food trucks, and establishing local recovery investment funds. Decreased air travel by out-of-state tourists means districts should focus on local and regional promotions and adjust inventory and merchandise to appeal more to local customers and in-state visitors.
The Adlers say they will continue to take problems head-on and to think outside the box.
“We are just like everyone else,” Casey Adler said. “We are small business owners who are trying to survive.”