advertisement
July 12, 2018

Downtown Lewiston nonprofit gets off the ground

Downtown Lewiston, a new nonprofit focused on the promotion and economic development of the commercial district, will hold an event to introduce the organization to the business community and the community as a whole.

The kick-off event is Thursday, from 5-7 p.m., at DaVinci's Eatery in Lewiston.

Michael Dostie, who owns J. Dostie Jewelers in the downtown and spearheaded the organization, will speak about why it's forming and short- and long-term goals. The event will also be an opportunity to garner feedback on business needs and improvements that could be made, Dostie told Mainebiz. It will also launch the association's membership drive.

Small-business islands

Among the association's first initiatives, earlier this year, was the development of a website (downtownlewiston.com), which launched June 12. The website is designed to be a resource for visitors, residents, employees, entrepreneurs and developers.

The association aims to strengthen connections within the commercial district and with local government, Dostie said.

"When we were putting together this organization, we identified over 100 businesses just in the downtown commercial district," he said. "But very few business owners know one another. It's almost like these small-business islands. So there hasn't been that sense of community. "

An apparent disconnect between the city and the business community is partly due to the lack of a single entity, representing the business community, for the city to communicate with, he said. An example of the association's potential to enhance the business/city connection was when the city asked the association to submit a proposal on placement of wayfinding signs. The association did the research and submitted a proposal, which was approved by Lewiston City Council earlier this week.

"That flew through the approval process because we were able to justify everything with statistics," said Dostie, adding, "We want to act as a resource for city administration."

Carving out the time

The need for this type of association is longstanding, Dostie said.

"Back in the 1970s and 1980s, there were probably four or five attempts to start and maintain a business association in downtown Lewiston," he said. Those starts were likely challenged by an exodus of downtown businesses to the malls that were getting started up and by the difficulty of coordinating small business owners.

Although the downtown is now lively with small business, the latter challenge remains, he said.

"When you're coordinating a downtown business association, you're dealing with small business proprietors, and the one thing a small business owner or manager doesn't have is time," he said. "Their focus has to be on their business, and that's a full-time job plus."

But the association has had better success this time around in overcoming that difficulty.

"It gets to a point where you have to recognize — as a community member, as a small business owner — that if this doesn't happen, if you're not willing to go above and beyond and carve out the time, it's never going to happen," he said. "And right now, Lewiston is in its best position for this type of an organization. In the last 10 years, we've seen over $100 million invested our downtown."

That's included revitalization of mills and Lisbon Street buildings, construction underway now of The Hartley Block on Lisbon Street, and new commercial and residential use coming in.

Art walks and holiday décor

As listed on the website, the association has identified initial goals:

Advocacy

• Work with the city to establish a TIF district, creating income to be reinvested into the downtown

• Work with the city to improve grant/loan programs that encourage new and existing businesses to locate downtown

• Strategic zoning to help revitalize empty storefronts

• Creation of downtown ambassadors

Events

• Collaborate with other organizations to have downtown events that attract people, like art walks, music, historical walking tours, plein aire painting, bike races, etc.

• Membership downtown after-hour socials

Marketing and improvements

• Welcome packet for Bates College student orientation and for parents weekends

• Enhance holiday street décor

• Streetlight banners

• Welcome signage at southern entrance

• Create a "Come Downtown" marketing video for social media and web

• Visible, easy-to-read wayfinding signage to the downtown and to parking garages

• Streetscape and storefront beautification program

The overall goal?

"Downtown Lewiston has tremendous assets and they're really not being highlighted," said Dostie. "We would like to see a stronger business community. We'd like to see better promotion of our assets to potential visitors and even to our own community. We'd like to showcase the downtown to small businesses and to large investors and developers. There's money to be made here. Success is happening."

Comments

Type your comment here:

Today's Poll Do you plan to vacation in Maine this summer?
ADVERTISEMENTS
Most Popular on Facebook