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#CrushingOnColorado Photo Contest Results in Video Love Letter

19 Mar

What does Colorado mean to you? Bike-riding, skiing, rodeos, walkable neighborhoods, sunshine, the Great Sand Dunes, pub trivia, a healthy economy, historic theaters, the blue bear, even beef jerky apparently.

On Valentine’s Day 2014, Downtown Colorado, Inc. (DCI) launched a photo contest to get Coloradans to share what they love about our state. DCI asked individuals to snap a photo of themselves “crushing” on their favorite Colorado institution. Facebook voters had one month to select the winning photo (the historic Paradise Theater in Paonia, Colorado) for a $100 cash prize.

All photos were compiled into a final video love letter to our state. Watch #crushingoncolorado love letter here!

The contest is over but you can still share your love of our state with the world through social media! #crushingoncolorado

Incidentally, the Paradise Theater, the subject of the winning photo, has been participating in DCI’s Save Our Screens campaign to identify and raise funds as well as awareness of the plight of rural, independent theatres who were being forced to close due to the high costs of mandatory conversion to digital projectors. On March 17, the Paradise Theater exceeded its crowd-funding goal and will now be able to afford digital conversion and continue to serve as a community gathering place in Paonia. Isn’t that just one more thing to love about Colorado?

Heather Garbo is DCI’s Director of Communications and Development and has worked for the organization since 2009. She has a Colorado crush on a little book and wine bar located only two blocks from her house in Denver.


Historic Preservation Month Feature: The Grand Theater in Rocky Ford

6 May


City: Rocky Ford, CO

Population: 4,000

Historic Structure: Yes, Colorado State Historic Registrar

Year Built: Originally built in 1908, rebuilt after a fire in 1935.

Public Non-profit: Grand Friends

Grand Theater 1The Grand Theater has a tenuous past, but has been able to flourish over the past 20 years with the continued support of a dedicated community.  After many years of abandonment and vandalism the City of Rocky Ford finally bought the building in 1991 and appointed a Rocky Ford Arts Commission to manage it. Even in an economically depressed area, the community came together and decided to open it back up to create a place for all ages to gather, and funding s
Five years ago, the Grand Theater received information from their booking agent about the inevitability of a digital conversion. They were encouraged to join the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) to stay informed and possibly get equipment cheaper. They did join the group but were able to fundraise and buy their equipment without NATO’s help.ources became available once they gained a spot on the Colorado State Historic Registrar.

Grand Theater 2


The Grand Theater has a fundraising organization called the Grand Friends. With this organization and additional financial support from El Pomar Foundation, they were able to raise $85,000 to upgrade the facilities and buy digital equipment. Much of the Rocky Ford community either supports the theater financially or volunteers their time. Community groups volunteer at the theater on a rotating basis and their names are published in the newspaper every week.

The Grand Friends send out annual letters to solicit support from community members and businesses and tell them how the money has been used, such as renovation projects and the digital conversion. Other fundraising techniques included summer musicals and free events with suggested donations.



The Grand Theater is an important community space and one of the only businesses in downtown Rocky Ford. With both a stage and a movie screen, the theater can hosts live performances, student musicals, political meetings as well as events like “Movie Bowl Trivia” and talent shows. The Rocky Ford and La Junta communities keep this theater alive through continued support, and the Grand Theater hopes to continue to preserve the theater as a vital piece of this community.


For more information visit:

Photo source:

Making the Most of Small Business Saturday

8 Nov

The National Retailers Federation (NRF) expects holiday sales to increase 4.1% this holiday season. Wouldn’t it be great to see sales increase in the small businesses that give your downtown its unique character? On November 24, small businesses across the nation will have their doors open, ready to kick-off the holiday season with Small Business Saturday, the main street alternative to the chaotic, big-box shopping that occurs on Black Friday the day before.

As a downtown leader, consider these tools to support your downtown merchants on Small Business Saturday, and encourage shoppers to focus their spending locally this holiday season.

1. Make an event out of it! Meet with the business owners to coordinate hours, plan discounts and specials, and cross-promote each other. If the weather is nice, work with shop owners to have a sidewalk sale, create a scavenger hunt for shoppers to visit all of the participating stores and get a free hot chocolate or coffee if they complete the hunt. Snap photos on your phones, and tag shoppers and stores on your downtown’s Facebook page. Be sure to promote your event in the local newspaper, online, and community announcements. Promote it as a FUN shopping experience to jump-start the holiday season. Have a local salon or day spa? See if they will offer discounted services to help shoppers relax during the day.

2. Inform business owners of promotional ideas. For Black Friday, shoppers wait in long lines for hours throughout the cold night all for that ridiculously amazing door-buster sale. Small businesses may not have the means to offer the extreme sales, but a few strategic promotions can help boost sales for the day and attract new customers. Small business owners may consider adapting these promotional techniques to attract customers:

  • Door-busters: Large retailers typically have a limited number of door-buster sale items that they sell at a loss–meaning the price is lower than the cost of goods sold. They do this as a marketing technique to get shoppers in the door to buy that sale item, and continue to shop while they are there. Consider a hot-holiday item for the year, and offer a really great sale for the first 10 customers who come through the door. Another take on door-busters is to offer discounts of 10-20% off entire purchases for the first 2 hours of the store being open.
  • Complimentary gifts: Shoppers love free, and will go out of their way to receive a free item. Offer a special where shoppers can receive a small gift for spending over $100 in your store. Make sure the free item is of minimal cost.
  • BOGO specials: Have a lot of inventory to move? Perhaps inventory that has stayed on the shelves for too long? Offer a “buy-one-get-one,” or “buy-two-get-one” free special to attract shoppers and make room for new inventory.
  • Buy now, spend more later: Offer a special for customers who make a purchase on Small Business Saturday to receive a discount on their next purchase from now through Christmas.
  • Collaborative marketing: Is there a cluster of businesses that complement each other? Work with the businesses to offer a discount to shop at another participating business (for example, if a customer makes a purchase at store #1, they receive a coupon for 10% off at store #2, half-off coffee at the bakery, or a free soda with lunch at the local eatery). Get all participating businesses together to create one large ad with Saturday-only coupons and deals at each participating business.

3. Use resources online: There are a variety of tools available to create your Small Business Saturday Campaign. Ready to get the ball rolling?

  • American Express has been a key player in encouraging and growing Small Business Saturday. Visit their website to find tools and tips for increasing involvement and activity around the holiday, and a marketing kit that can be created specifically for each business.
  • FedEx has also joined to support Small Business Saturday. They are holding a Small Business Grant contest for $25,000 to grow a small business. If you’re not entering your business, go vote on your favorite business to win the prize!
  • Constant Contact has developed a Small Business Saturday tool-kit to help guide businesses through promoting their sales and participation in the holiday. Use this toolkit to help guide you to promote your business, or to promote your downtown as a whole. This toolkit helps walk businesses through the process of setting business goals, determining what the audience or target market wants, and what will get them out to shop local on Small Business Saturday.
  • List your business for free on Independent We Stand’s website and get in front of customers who are eager to buy local.
  • The 3/50 Project is a movement to save brick and mortar establishments that line our main streets. This project encourages consumers to spend $50 at locally-owned businesses each month. This website also provides free resources for marketing and promotion of the project, and shopping locally.

4. Keep up the momentum! If Small Business Saturday was a success in your community, don’t stop! Keep up the great work and consider having a Shop Local or Shop Small  day every month. Build on the momentum from each successful event and make sure to keep the goal focused on supporting local, small, and downtown businesses.

Smart Solutions to Empty Storefronts Popping Up in Colorado

8 Dec

Transforming Stagnant Spaces into Lively Places

In this current economy, it is not surprising to see vacant storefronts appear in Colorado communities of all sizes. But, what does surprise us is that the community and property owners let that storefront sit empty when there is an easy solution that benefits everyone: filling the space with a pop-up business.

There is no good reason to let empty storefronts remain empty. They create a stagnant space in what could otherwise be a lively contribution to a thriving commercial district. In fact, at many a technical assistance visit, DCI’s team of expert consultants has recommended a community fill its empty spaces with temporary installations otherwise known as “pop-up businesses.”  

What Is a Pop-up Business?

A pop-up business or store is created when an empty storefront temporarily houses a business for the benefit of both the property owner and the business owner. It is a fantastic solution to livening up those empty retail spaces and it is becoming popular across the country. In fact, pop-up stores are not the only businesses that are popping up these days…pop-up restaurants, pop-up food trucks, even pop-up bars are sprouting in communities across the country.  

Why Should You Consider a Pop-up? Now more than ever, when economic resources are at their thinnest, collaboration is key for the survival of any community. By utilizing a pop-up model for empty retail spaces, everyone is a winner!

  • Property owners: A pop-up business “sells” your space for you. A pop-up store can do for a retail space what home staging does for a house for sale—highlight the potential and encourage a business owner to picture themselves and their customers in the space. Think about it…if you were confronted with two potential retail spaces, one sitting dark, empty, and dusty, and one that was brimming with patrons and life, which one would you choose?
  • Potential business owners: A pop-up business allows you to “test the waters.” Whether a home-based business is considering a permanent move to a retail space or an entrepreneur wants to test out a new product, a pop-up space allows one to leap into the entrepreneurial pool without the risks of a permanent investment. It can provide the valuable information necessary to decide whether a business model needs to be tweaked or if you need to head into another direction all together.
  • Surrounding business owners: A pop-up business helps to encourage a lively commercial district. A vacant storefront can drag down the entire commercial district. But, filling this space with a temporary business will add to the vitality and encourage more business for everyone. After all, people attract more people…the more customers that are out and about in your district, the more intriguing the district will appear to others. Plus, encouraging business owners to test the waters and tweak their business model can eliminate a string of failed businesses, which can negatively impact the entire district.  
  • Community at large: A busy, attractive commercial district with no stagnant spaces provides a safe and lively environment, which benefits residents and visitors alike.

How Can a Pop-up Store Be Used?

Now that you’re convinced that you should never let a retail space sit empty, perhaps you’re wondering how to fill it? Here are some ideas from Colorado communities around the state that may provide you with a little inspiration.

1)  Create a temporary art gallery: Give local artists the chance to showcase their work. This could be as simple as displaying their artwork on the wall or as involved as creating an artist collaborative for artwork to be sold.  

Colorado example: I Heart Denver (located in the 16th Street Mall Pavilions Denver, Colorado) provides a locale for local artists and designers to sell their wares. The space supports “shopping local,” and artists collect 70 percent of all they sell.

2) Help a home-based business transition to retail: Entrepreneurs with a home-based business or new idea can safely test the waters without the usual risks. A temporary business allows entrepreneurs to work out the kinks and decide if a storefront is the best option.

Colorado example: Following up on a recommendation from a DCI technical assistance visit, Cedaredge, a small town of just over 2,000 in Delta County, utilized an empty storefront in the commercial district to bring in local home-based businesses to display and sell their products.

3) Engage the local community youth: Communities can encourage local youth to have pride in their community by encouraging research projects on the local history that culminates in an open house. Or provide students with the opportunity to have their own gallery, displaying artwork for the community to visit and admire. Bonus: proud parents who come to support their kids will create instant foot traffic. Colorado example: In 2007, Eads was awarded a Governor’s Award for Downtown Excellence for the high school students’ creation of “Sample Town.” These amazing students spent months researching viable businesses and assembling business plans for the empty retail spaces in Eads. The plans were unveiled to the public when the students each spent a day manning the empty storefronts and sharing their entrepreneurial visions with visitors.   

Need more inspiration? For more ideas of pop-up examples across the country, visit

New Creative Districts Legislation Passed: What Does It Mean?

13 Apr

Guest author Hilarie Portell of Portell Works explains the recently passed Creative Districts legislation and what it means for Colorado.

Creative enterprises are the fifth largest industry cluster in Colorado, and now local communities have a tool to help attract and retain them.

In late March, Governor Hickenlooper signed new legislation creating a statewide designation for creative districts. Communities that meet specific criteria will apply for the designation through the Colorado Creative Industries (CCI) division. Certified districts become eligible for technical support, limited state incentives and federal funding if it becomes available. An  application process should be in place by July 2012.

The creative district designation does not have any state fiscal implications or property requirements, such as tax credits or design guidelines. However, it could provide communities with a new economic development tool to build local support and targeted strategies for a creative district.

House Bill 11-1031 defines a creative district as a “well-recognized, designated mixed-use area of a community in which a high concentration of cultural facilities, creative businesses, or arts-related businesses serve as the anchor of attraction.” Creative districts may have multiple vacant properties in close proximity that would be suitable for redevelopment and may be home to both nonprofit and for-profit creative industries and organizations.

The legislation builds on a 2008 report by the Colorado Council on the Arts (now Colorado Creative Industries) on the state’s “creative economy.” It found that 186,251 jobs in Colorado are associated with creative enterprises and talent, with 2007 earnings totaling $5 billion. Importantly, creative enterprises are defined as “any company for which the primary value of its products or services is rooted in its emotional and aesthetic appeal to the customer.” This includes 69 industries in five categories: design, film/media, heritage, literary/publishing, and visual arts/craft. The categories comprise traditional arts as well as industrial and green design, interactive media, architecture, home furnishings, recreational products, local brewing operations and more. The full report is available at

Learn more about this legislation and its implications for your community at the May 11 DCI Development and Improvement Districts Forum. The DIDs forum is open to DCI members and will held from 2-4 p.m. at the Colorado Municipal League (1144 Sherman Street, Denver). Visit website for details and registration information.

Hilarie Portell helped draft and advocate for the creative district legislation. She is principal of Portell Works, a community and economic development consulting firm in Denver.

Public Employers: Are Residency Requirements OK?

13 Jan

Guest blogger Lorrie Ray of Mountain States Employers Council discusses the legalities of residency requirements and why public employers need to be careful.

Public employers sometimes require employees to live within certain areas to be employed. Such was the case for the regional fire district comprised of five Hudson County communities in New Jersey. It required fire district employees to be recruited from these communities. This hiring restriction resulted in only two of the 323 employees being African-American.

The NAACP sued the fire district for disparate impact race discrimination arguing that the residency pool was too limiting and was not justified by business necessity. The NAACP said that the pool should be expanded to include southern Hudson County, and Essex and Union counties, so that Black applicants could work as North Hudson firefighters in greater numbers.

The court initially held that the NAACP proved that the residency requirement had a disparate impact on Black applicants that could not be justified by business necessity. The decision was reversed, however, when Hispanic firefighter candidates who intervened in the case and said that changing the residency requirement would cause them to experience reverse discrimination. They successfully argued that it would go against the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Ricci v. DeStefano for the fire district to expand the residency pool to solve one discrimination concern only to create another.

The court recently changed its mind once again reinstating its previous decision that the residency requirement caused a racial disparate impact for Black applicants and was not “job related and consistent with business necessity.” NAACP v. North Hudson Regional Fire & Rescue (D.N.J. 2010).

The court made this decision despite the Hispanic applicants’ argument that fire district also has a duty to stop reverse discrimination. The court reasoned that the fire district “would not be expanding the residency requirement because of race-based statistics alone; it would be expanding the list because the residency requirement causes a disparate impact that is not justified by business necessity.”

It will be interesting to see if this decision stands or is reversed again. In any case, public employers with residency requirements should beware of the potential for disparate impact discrimination claims and assume that any residing requirement is based on business necessity.

Visit Mountain States Employers Council for more information and a wealth of resources. DCI members with 10 or fewer employees can receive an annual MSEC membership for $600, a 45 percent savings off the regular rate! Membership benefits include employer resources, legal counsel, member-only educational events, and more. Visit the website or contact Louise Bauer at for details.