July 13, 2006

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Concord Publisher's Note: Getting people downtown
By Dan Szczesny

One of the state’s longest-running outdoor festivals kicks off its 32nd year next week, as dozens of downtown retailers move their wares outside onto Main Street.

From Pleasant to Center streets, the downtown will be transformed into essentially an outdoor mall. And this year, a big focus of Concord’s Market Days will be music. In fact, the event is now called Market Days and Summer Music Festival.

Main Street Concord, which took over Market Days from Downtown Concord, Inc., in 2004, smartly turned to the Manchester Jazz and Blues Festival when it came to choosing bands. Now, Jazz and Blues Festival bands Roomful of Blues and Soul Band will grace the stage in front of the State House, along with other acts like Club Soda and Brooks Young Band.

It’s a great event, designed to add a much-eeded boost to the city’s downtown during a traditionally slow time of year. Market Days takes place Wednesday, July 19, through Friday, July 21, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

Market Days has become a premiere event, and Main Street Concord is the ideal organization for promoting downtown growth and well-being.

That said, downtown merchants may benefit from an organization like Downtown Concord, Inc. Here’s what happened.

Remember when Market Days used to be called Old Fashioned Bargain Days? Pretty much what that meant was, all the downtown stores would haul out their unsold holiday merchandise and try to pawn it off as shopping bargains. You may also recall that the event began to be not-so-lovingly referred to as Old Fashioned Garbage Days.

Enter Downtown Concord, Inc. (DCI).

In the late ’80s, the economy was in the pits. Downtown Concord store fronts were bare, inventory was low and something needed to be done to make people want to come downtown. DCI was assembled by a handful of downtown merchants who felt the Chamber of Commerce wasn’t doing enough to promote downtown and focus on small business needs. (By the way, The Hippo’s own Charlene Cesarini was heavily involved in DCI.)

The decision was made to take the focus off shopping and redesign the event with entertainment and music. The theory was simple. If they made money, fine. But the point was awareness. Get people downtown, give them a positive experience, and even if they buy nothing at the event, they will want to come back. Get enough of them coming back, and you have a thriving downtown. And it worked.

Eventually, Main Street Concord, a national program with partial funding from the city, took Market Days over and event organizers have worked hard to forward the original mission of DCI, which was to promote downtown business.

But ... recently, some small business owners have been harkening back to the DCI days when there was an organization consisting solely of local small business owners whose mission was to focus not on overall city growth but on getting people walking the downtown streets.

It might be time once again for such an organization. Tell me what you think.


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