It’s no secret the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way consumers shop. With business closures and layoffs across the nation, small businesses had to get creative in how they served their customers — all while competing with retail giants online. The Fergus Falls business community rose to the challenge, and we’re proud of the perseverance they’ve shown over the last year.
While the pandemic is ongoing, the world is starting to return to some semblance of normalcy. That said, small businesses are just starting the recovery process. Continuing to shop local is one of the easiest and best ways to support small businesses in our community. Retailers in downtown Fergus Falls hope to make it even easier this summer with a brand-new initiative: Late ‘Til 8 on Thursdays.
What is Late ‘Til 8?
Late ‘Til 8 isn’t a complex initiative. It’s really quite simple: downtown retailers have agreed to stay open until 8 PM on Thursdays during the summer months. The extended hours begin the week of Memorial Day and end the week of Labor Day.
The idea was a collaborative effort between downtown business owners, spearheaded by Dawn Saxton and Jan Werkau. Saxton is the owner of Cora’s Closet Upscale Consignment Boutique. Werkau owns Creative Handmade Goods and SoapWerks Naturals. She also serves on the Fergus Falls Downtown Riverfront Council Board of Directors.
The duo had many conversations last fall with Amy Hicks, the owner of Dandelion & Burdock, about how to bring more traffic to downtown businesses. “We wanted to take active steps to bring folks downtown, and to pool our efforts to benefit all downtown retailers and restaurants,” Werkau explains. Eventually, they decided to reach out to other business owners for a joint brainstorming session.
A group of about 20 downtown business owners met at Union Pizza & Brewing Company in February. The collaborative efforts definitely paid off.
“The group generated a lot of great ideas, some easier and faster to implement, and one of the ideas that floated to the top was Late ‘Til 8,” recalls Werkau. “Although most restaurants and some retail stores downtown already stay open until at least 8:00, we felt we could draw more business downtown if we were more unified in our endeavors,” Saxton adds.
The goal is to bring more people downtown and encourage them to explore its many offerings. Downtown retailers hope staying open later will “accommodate folks who work during the week and may not be able to shop during ‘regular’ hours.”
Since the initial meeting, more than 30 downtown businesses have agreed to participate. Some retailers and organizations even plan to take it up a notch with special events and activities. For example, Kaddatz Galleries will be holding its Family Art Table each Thursday. Other retailers have discussed hosting musicians on Thursday evenings.
Bringing Shoppers Downtown
Downtown retailers often get shoppers from out of town, whether they live in the surrounding area or are just passing through. However, getting those who live in the community to shop downtown hasn’t been as easy. “We hear all the time ‘I never come downtown anymore’ or ‘I never drive down Lincoln Avenue,” Werkau says.
Less traffic only fuels the misconception that there’s nowhere to shop in downtown Fergus Falls. “Many people don’t realize downtown has a great selection of fun restaurants offering a variety of cuisines,” Saxton says. “We also have many shops offering quality products and one-of-a-kind items ranging from handmade soaps to designer clothing.”
Retailers hope Late ‘Til 8 will show locals that downtown has plenty to offer and encourage them to shop where they live.
“We need locals to survive and thrive,” explains Werkau. “We need them to come downtown and see what’s here; to shop, eat, and play local first before leaving town for something shinier. We’ll never be shinier without their support.”
Werkau makes a great point. Spending money at area businesses doesn’t just benefit retailers; it makes a significant community-wide impact.
Shopping local first ensures more money is reinvested in city infrastructure, schools, and people. It also keeps jobs in the community, allowing more people to live and work in the area while contributing to the region’s economy. Simply put, every dollar spent at local businesses strengthens the community’s overall well-being and long-term growth.
Late ‘Til 8 is Just the Beginning
As noted above, the initial brainstorming session yielded many ideas to encourage locals to get out and explore downtown Fergus Falls. “There are a number of additional ideas and initiatives we’ll be pursuing,” says Werkau. “[Late ‘Til 8] is just the beginning.”
Saxton and Werkau have also worked with Greater Fergus Falls and the city to apply for grants, which will be used to make improvements to downtown and the overall shopping experience.
Greater Fergus Falls is grateful to serve entrepreneurs that not only love what they do but the community they do it in. These small business owners genuinely want to see those who live and work in the community thrive and are just as invested in the success of others as their own. Our team is excited to spend time exploring the many great downtown retailers and eateries this summer, and we can’t wait to see what else they have in store!
Special thanks to Dawn Saxton and Jan Werkau for leading this initiative and sharing their insights with our team. Looking for resources or interested in starting a business in Fergus Falls? Contact us to learn more.