There is something about being downtown that makes me feel at home. Sitting in our camp chairs at The Brickyard, community members talk, and wave to one another and catch up on news while listening to the artists play. Even when rain threatened to dampen the fun, most people laughed it off, bringing out coats and umbrellas. First Friday Shop Hops mean live music, open stores and refreshments for shoppers. This week, we were treated to a landscape artist, classic cars lining Main Street, a guitarist, a jazz trio and cake and root beer floats at various stops. This was the opening day to The Artistreet Carnival. Live music played as the Carrousel turned at the Richland Carrousel Park. Local hobbyists and artists interacted with visitors, strolling on the main drag. Painters and weavers plied their craft on street corners. Children and adults picked up brushes to contribute to the beautification of a Main Street wall, now a community mural. Sipping local coffee, leaning against cars, laughing and walking in and out of stores, downtown Mansfield, hummed with life.
More and more, tourists are getting away from big cities and chain stores. They want the authentic experience, specialty stores and local eateries that none of their friends have visited. There is always some undiscovered corner to be explored; a back road to drive, an old building to photograph, a little known artist to support. According to Smart Growth America, rebuilding downtowns is one of the best ways to grow the tourism economy. Their website claims, “Vibrant downtowns, main streets, and city centers give people reasons to return to your neighborhood over and over again.”
But it isn’t just downtown that interests the incoming guest. What is it about your area that makes it unique? What restaurant do visitors just have to try while they’re here? A trip here would be wasted without this (whatever “this” is). This sort of local street smarts can only come from community members. Towns with community support often boast better tourism numbers. Locals attend events, invite their friends, give good reviews, and share on social media and by word of mouth. Unengaged communities will never tell others of the gems which lie hidden under their very noses. This is also the role of the local Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) or Destination Marketing Organization (DMO), to get the word out. “Economic Development entities like Destination Mansfield-Richland County are charged with attracting visitors to positively impact our local economy,” says Lee Tasseff, Destination Mansfield – Richland County President. “The more a community has, the greater responsibility its Bureau has to promote what is there.”
Richland County is bursting with local color and our most valuable commodities are the people who brighten it on a daily basis. Artists, store owners, consumers, volunteers are making a difference everyday just by getting involved. Have you been to The Great Mohican Pow-Wow? Or the Lexington Blueberry Festival? Experience the thrill of racing on the dirt track on Mansfield Motor Speedway. Travel the B&O Bike Trail and see the locally-owned restaurants and attractions along the way. Explore the flavors of our Wine and Ale Trail as you try sips from unique wineries and breweries across the county. Choose a downtown, stroll through the shops and stop at the local ice cream stand or coffee shop. Go, explore, get involved and tell your friends.
Community involvement can not only enrich our lives, but bring much needed attention to otherwise overlooked businesses and events. People want what we have to offer. The more people we can tell our story to, the more will visit. As a visitor, I made a purchase at a small store downtown. The cashier chatted and wrapped it in pale pink paper. She handed it to me and again offered the drinks and homemade cookies along the counter. She smiled and said, “Have a wonderful day, dear. Come back again.” Yes, I certainly will.