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Waynesboro's downtown

July 27, 2004

As MainStreet Waynesboro, Inc. prepares an application for a $175,000 state grant to enable the Pennsylvania borough to hire a downtown manager, let us share a few thoughts on downtown development:

Consider what's possible as opposed to what's most desirable and play to downtown's strengths.

The process of seeking the cash began in April with a survey of businesses in a downtown area that runs from Fairview to Clayton avenues.

That survey discovered some positive attributes. Most buildings - 89 percent - are owner-occupied, only one is totally vacant and just 2 percent are in poor condition.

Business operators who own their own buildings can calculate their costs better than those who rent or lease. They can feel free to invest in improvements, knowing that if they do sell, they're the ones who will profit.

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Vacant buildings and those in poor condition tend to drag down property values and create the impression of a rundown business district, as opposed to one that's vibrant.

In considering what's possible for downtown, the MainStreet folks need to look at what's been successful there already. Chances are it's a business that sells a product or service not available at Wal-Mart, or which keeps customers coming back with its good service.

James Fisher, secretary to MainStreet's board, noted that there are too many businesses that aren't open for many hours and which have no signs directing shoppers there.

These are things a downtown manager can help with, acting as a combination coach/cheerleader to help business operators do what's in their own best interests.

That manager can also help would-be business operators be realistic about their plans with advice on how to do a business plan and on how much capital is needed to get started.

Finally, that manager can remind businesses that their best customers are likely to be those who can walk to their doorstep. Keep those folks happy and Waynesboro's downtown will have a solid base on which it can build.

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