Well, we got a big taste of Iowa winter on Monday! I wish I knew how many trucks of snow were hauled out of downtown the last couple days! That would be an interested number to know (although I'll admit it probably wouldn't be helpful in recruiting new residents).
While so many of us are taking it easy and using up some vacation time last week and this week, I am very thankful to all of the people who have been working hard to dig us out of the snow. Thank you to everyone who bundles up and removes snow in our community. And a huge thank you to the City of Grinnell crew for working hard to clear off the streets.
It's days like Monday where I'm thankful I live in a small community where people genuinely care. My little car got stuck twice Monday night, nothing major but enough snow under my tires to prevent me from moving. Both times people who barely knew me stopped to give me a push. Thank you!
Speaking of snow, I'm working on a blog post and need your help: Where are the best places to go sledding in town? Hit reply and let me know, would you?
Happy new year!
~ Emily Counts
Our Annual Gift List
Every year, we compile a list of some great gift ideas you can find right here in Grinnell. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it does include a lot of great ideas from many of our members. Hopefully it will give you some ideas to help you wrap up your gift shopping this week.
Find details about all of the businesses listed in our Business Directory. Don't forget that many of our retail stores are open until 7:00 p.m. on weeknights and late afternoon on Saturdays leading up to Christmas. Happy shopping and happy holidays!
~ Emily Counts
P.S. We will be taking next week off from publishing this newsletter. The next issue will be in your inbox on December 30. Our office will be closed December 24-27.
P.P.S. We are accepting applications for our summer internship positions. If you know of a college student who is looking for experience in marketing, public relations, and event planning, please let them know about our Community Events & Marketing Internship and our Farmers Market Events & Marketing Internship.
Let's Tell Our Story
Would you help me tell other people what you love about Grinnell? Over the past couple months, we have transitioned to a new website and are planning to expand the content in the new "Things To Do" section in the coming year to help tell Grinnell's story digitally. But to do this well, I need your help.
Here are some ideas I have for things I want to add to this section to expand it in 2016 - read through the list and see if there is something you are personally passionate about:
So, was there something on the list that caught your eye? Or made you think of another idea? There are so many great things to talk about, but I can't tell our story all by myself. Not only do I not have time, but I am not an expert in all of these areas.
If you have experience or passion for a specific topic, would you reply to this email and let me know? I'm looking for volunteers who would be willing to do things like write blog posts, create itineraries, map out walking/running/biking routes, and take photos/video. You could write one, you could write many. You can be a great writer, or someone that has the ideas (I'm happy to write/edit). Is this something you'd be willing to help me with? Reply to this email and let me know.
~ Emily Counts
P.S. Starting next Monday, many of our retail stores are starting their extended holiday hours. Most will be open until 7:00 pm on weekdays, and later than usual on Saturdays. Check with each store for their specific holiday hours.
Why I vote with a dollar
As we brainstorm topics for this newsletter week after week, spreading the "Shop Local" message is always at the top of our list, especially this time of year. The phrase "Shop Local" is so overused that I actually hesitate to even write it. I know you hear it all the time, making it easy to tune out. You already know you shouldshop local, but do you?
Even though you know you should be shopping local, I know that nearly all of you are driving down I-80 to do at least a portion of your shopping. So rather than lecture your the umpteenth time, I'm instead going to share why I personally shop local.
1. To Improve The Local Economy
Why should I expect our community to grow if I don't support it? I want Grinnell to be healthy and to grow, and I view each dollar I spend locally as my pledge to support the Grinnell economy. Spending my money here helps local businesses keep their doors open, pay their employees, and donate to charities and community projects. I really want Grinnell to be a community that thrives, not one that declines over time. That's all possible, but I know it takes me supporting Grinnell businesses.
2. For A Better Shopping Experience
I would love to see more shops here in Grinnell. When new businesses look at locating in a community, they evaluate the health of the existing ones. I shop at our existing stores because I really want them to thrive, and I also want them to gush about their successful business when prospective entrepreneurs ask them about owning a store here. I want our existing stores to all be here in 20 years, right alongside many new ones. With each dollar I spend locally, I'm voting for those businesses to be here when I walk down Main Street in 20 years.
3. For A Strong Community
20 years from now, I hope Grinnell still has its character. I want all of our independent businesses to be thriving, because they are a huge part of what makes this place unique, original, and charming. I hope to see that our historic buildings have been cared for, and that our sidewalks and streets are busier than ever. In 20 years, I hope Grinnell is known as a must-visit destination in Iowa. We will never establish this city as a well-known destination for travelers, new residents, or new business ventures without a strong backbone of thriving local businesses.
Those are three big reasons why I spend my money locally. What would you add to this list?
Speaking of supporting local businesses, tomorrow night is the perfect opportunity to do so. Many of our local retailers, service businesses and organizations have festive fun planned for you tomorrow night during Jingle Bell Holiday from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. I hope to see you and your family then!
~ Emily Counts
Thankful For You
Today, I am thankful that all of you care for this community. I know you care, because you read this newsletter week after week. However you are involved and however you contribute to our community, thank you. The fact that so many of us care about this place is one of the big reasons that Grinnell is such a great city to live, learn, work and play. If you would like to get more involved in making Grinnell even better, let me know what you are interested in and I'd be happy to help connect you to a local group or cause.
This is a busy time of year with the excitement of the Thanksgiving holiday and the flurry of holiday shopping getting underway with Black Friday. As you are making shopping plans and searching for unique gifts this year, don't forget to support our local businesses right here in Grinnell. Small Business Saturday is this weekend, a national holiday set aside for celebrating our small businesses. Please take some time this weekend to visit your favorite businesses here in Grinnell and let them know how much they mean to you.
I wish you and your family a happy Thanksgiving,
~ Emily Counts
P.S. We have partnered with many Grinnell retailers on a punch card shopping promotion that is going on now through December 24. Collect punches as you shop at participating retailers, and then turn in your completed cards for chances to win the weekly prizes. Also, please note that, due to the snowy weather last Friday, Jingle Bell Holiday has been rescheduled for Friday, December 4 from 5 to 8 p.m. I hope you can join us downtown that night.
City Sidewalks, Busy Sidewalks
Tomorrow is one of my favorite nights of the year in Grinnell. Jingle Bell Holidayis an evening when our downtown sidewalks are filled with people, there are horse-drawn carriage rides circling the block, families are out enjoying treats and crafts, and all the shops are decked out for the holidays.
Jingle Bell Holiday activities are from 5 to 8 p.m. tomorrow night (Friday) and I hope you will come downtown and take part. Dozens of businesses and organizations have things planned for the evening. There is a chance of snow, but that won't get in our way. If anything, snowflakes in the air will make it feel that much more festive. There will be plenty of hot cocoa, cider and other refreshments to help you warm up as you make your way through downtown.
Here's a quick look at what's scheduled:
All Night (5:00 - 8:00) - Open houses and activities at businesses, winter farmers market, photos with Santa, free gift wrapping, and more.
5:15 - The official tree lighting by Mayor Canfield, with caroling and dancing by Michelle's Dance Academy
5:30-8:00 - Free carriage rides through downtown
6:00 - The Amazing Chase Scavenger Hunt
What's on your wish list?
We have so many amazing businesses here, and I'm personally able to make nearly all of my purchases locally. But it's human nature to want what you don't have. I hear from many of you about your wishes for businesses in Grinnell.
I'm currently hearing a lot of wishes for more retail stores. I couldn't agree with you more - how great would it be to have a downtown crammed with a variety of shops? It's no secret that we have some empty storefronts right now, and I know we would all love to see successful businesses in them.
However, retail is changing. Our community will never support all of the retail it did in the past. Today's retailers generally need much smaller storefronts than they used to (if any storefront at all), they require a high volume of foot traffic, they compete not only with their neighbors but also with every online retailer. If we're going to have more shopping, we as a community need to get creative. We also need to support the stores we already have.
It's not easy to own a retail store. Not only can it be high risk, but it's also a lot of work. My husband and I have owned Gamers, the video game store downtown, for about a year and a half now. We are in the minority of young people that want to operate a bricks and mortar store. While profit margins are shrinking, customers also have so many more options than they used to, and right at their fingertips. I know. We operate a physical store in Grinnell, but a substantial portion of our sales occur on eBay. We ship to people all over the country. Those people aren't buying from their local store, they are buying from their phone. Are you ordering things online that can be found locally?
I hear all of your wishes for more shopping, and I so badly want a magic wand that could make it happen overnight. Filling more storefronts, assisting businesses in jeopardy, and helping existing businesses with succession planning are all at the top of the chamber of commerce's list of goals. If you are a potential business owner or a current one, please reach out and ask us how we can support you.
I know you have a list of businesses you wish we had in Grinnell. So today is a chance to chime in. I made a short survey so you can tell me what's on your list:
P.S. Jingle Bell Holiday, our annual holiday shopping kick-off event, is one week from today. Please bring your families to the festivities and visit the businesses who are staying open late and planning extra activities just for you.
Babies, Buses & Bacon
First off, I'm excited to share the news that Rachael, our Chamber Director, gave birth to a beautiful baby girl on Monday. Everyone is doing well and I couldn't be happier for them. Three-year-old big brother Hunter is especially smitten with Harper, his baby sister.
With Rachael now on maternity leave, I'm running the office solo for a while and I started out with a very busy week. I had the opportunity to spend all day Wednesday leading a bus tour of Grinnell for 21 travel planners. We submitted a bid proposal to host this annual tour in Grinnell, and were selected as this year's host community.
The travel planners came from all over Iowa as well as a few from Nebraska and Missouri. I think they were all impressed with our community, and I already know a couple of them are planning to bring their own bus tours to Grinnell next year. I also staffed a booth at the Iowa Travel Marketplace yesterday, which is a trade show where I was able to visit with about 60 travel planners and tell them about things they can do with their tour groups in Grinnell.
I attended the annual Iowa Tourism Conference two weeks ago. One speaker discussed food trends. He talked about how the general population's appetite for new foods has increased substantially with access to the Food Network, food blogs and social media.
Food trends have always existed, but they are so much larger economic opportunities today because everyone is now a "foodie" to some extent. He talked about how the cupcake trend can be traced back to a Sex in the City episode that included a scene with decadent cupcakes. Viewers of the popular show couldn't necessarily afford the fancy clothes and a life in New York City, but a gourmet cupcake was something that could be accessible to anyone, anywhere. I never would have guessed that was where the trend originated!
He also discussed the bacon trend, and how it is an industry-driven trend to increase demand for bacon. The pork industry's work paid off, because you can now find bacon on just about any menu, plus there are entire festivals dedicated to it.
Food trends are important because they create economic opportunity. People will travel for food. Just about everyone wants to be a "foodie" these days, especially millennials. They are looking for unique dining experiences where they can discover interesting dishes. Millennials value experiences over things, so we as a community need to get creative and keep thinking of ways we can design memorable travel experiences for our visitors.
The millennial population will exceed the baby boomer population this year and, even though millennials are low on funds, they value travel. Millennials' travel spending is expected to be equal to baby boomers' travel spending this year. So, while we certainly don't want to ignore the baby boomer population, we also need to be thinking about ways to appeal to the millennial traveler. Do you have ideas? If you were a visitor to Grinnell, what would you wish you could do/see/eat/experience?
P.S. Thank you to all who took a minute to vote in the city elections last week. We are co-hosting a "State of the City" event with the League of Women Voters next Tuesday and invite you to come and hear from city leaders.
By James De Mott, Grinnell College Student
Craig Cooper, owner of Bikes to You, was awarded the Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation’s Business Partner of the Year Award at their Spirit of Giving event. Bikes to You has occupied an important place in the community’s cycling life since 1992. Two years after opening, Bikes to You became a part of the larger Iowa cycling community being named an official RABGRAI bicycle shop.
Community engagement and non-profit work has been a guiding principal for Cooper and Bikes to You. For more than twenty years, Cooper has worked with Grinnell Regional Medical Center on an initiative to hand out helmets to each area third grader—about 550 helmets a year. Cooper has also donated countless hours to area youth through Poweshiek County’s GALAXY after school programs and to the Imagine Grinnell organization. He has served in leadership positions with the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce.
Cooper was also honored for his work in pioneering the Grinnell Games, specifically the Twilight Bike Criterium, a cycling race running through downtown which is a unique event for an Iowa community to host.
The commitment that small business owners like Cooper have to service are what keep communities like ours flourishing.