The Fort Payne Main Street organization met with downtown store owners at The Strand restaurant to brainstorm ways to better capitalize on upcoming events and adopt new ideas for getting their cash registers ringing.

Fort Payne Main Street President Darlene Rotch led the group in the idea session, writing down ideas that included:

• Moving the location of the Fort Payne Main Street Farmers Market from the corner of Fifth Street NE and Gault Avenue to a location closer to First Street and incentivizing participants to hand out coupons with discounts for merchandise sold in downtown stores. Merchants also suggested the hours better align when their stores are open.

• Creating two-day events to encourage overnight stays in local hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts. DeKalb Tourism President John Dersham, who is vice president of the Fort Payne Main Street Board, said the city averages 1.3 room days per out-of-town guest and if that average visit to town could be raised to two days, it would mean an additional $26.5 million generated into the local economy. He also encouraged the group to think in terms of adding infrastructure that would appeal specifically to millennials, who seek unique experiences.

• Increased, temporary signage directing people driving through the city to specific stores and directing them to convenient parking behind the Gault Avenue storefronts.

• Better capitalizing on scenic attractions, the group Alabama, the VFW Fair, local history, summer camps and Third Saturday Sunset Cruise-In events in promotional marketing.

• Cross-promoting and thinking of downtown shops as a singular industry that grows together, emphasizing how many are employed and gross revenues downtown. Cooperative efforts could include a pub crawl directing guests and locals to restaurants and pubs within walking distance of each other.

• Placing eye-catching window wraps on vacant storefronts that refer travelers to the Fort Payne Main Street Facebook page for information about events and bring attention to adjoining stores.

• Vonda Tharpe, the director of Human Resources at The Children’s Place Distribution Center, encouraged local businesses to share their information so she can direct business travelers for places to stay, where to eat and what activities are available during overnight visits.

• Coordinating efforts for the first Third Saturday Sunset Cruise-In and Car Art Show in the Courtyard on March 21 and Alabama Fan Appreciation Week in June.

• Adding advertising to possibly include a booklet of photographs for placing in local hotels and organizing joint promotions like tickets to win prizes.

Rotch said the downtown calendar also includes a “Common Thread” PR campaign with wraps on empty windows promoting Ida Goza, a critical figure in the city’s sock industry and a focus for Women’s History Month in March. The group also wants to continue adding prominent citizens to the Star Walk of Fame.

Fort Payne will host Main Street Alabama’s quarterly meeting at the Coal and Iron Building on March 21, which will include a workshop about adaptive reuse of industrial buildings. Main Street Alabama focuses on bringing jobs, dollars and people back to Alabama’s historic communities. Economic development is at the heart of our efforts to revitalize downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts.

The Pete the Cat Festival is planned for August 1. Fort Payne Main Street Director Tim Harris noted how James Dean, author of the “Pete the Cat” books, is a Fort Payne native and 1976 graduate of Fort Payne High who was featured in the most recent issue of Auburn Magazine.

Other upcoming events of note are the Latino Festival on August 7, Alabama Restaurant Week August 16-25, the Boom Days Heritage Festival on Sept. 18 and 19, Brewfest on Oct. 24, Trunk n’ Treat on Halloween night, the Christmas Parade and Christmas in the Park on Dec. 4-6.

Rotch encouraged the group to continue developing ideas for better capitalizing on opportunities to get shoppers in downtown stores. Fort Payne Main Street plans to meet Feb. 18 and 24 to further review plans.

She said Fort Payne Main Street’s “three big things” remain recruiting a brewery, creating a marketing plan for existing businesses and researching grants to help business owners improve their buildings. These were the priorities people stated from a series of focus group meetings.

“Our goal was to distill information gathered from the focus group meetings into a single focus. We wanted to know both what merchants, restaurants, and businesses in our Main Street District needed and what Fort Payne residents wanted as well, to make the district more enticing to them,” Rotch said.

Tuesday’s gathering at The Strand was progress made toward developing the marketing plan to create opportunities for locals and tourists to spend more of their money in Fort Payne.

For more information on the Fort Payne Main Street organization’s plans and upcoming events, visit or call 256-996-2131.

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