Building a vibrant downtown
by Kristi Larsen, Marketing Director

All throughout the nation, empty downtown store fronts are prevalent in rural communities that are seeing steady population declines. The downtown is the heart of a community. A healthy, vibrant downtown portrays a strong local economy. National retailers who are looking at new store locations will use the downtown as a measure of a community’s ability to support new shopping, dining and entertainment options. What are we doing in Brookings to ensure that our downtown is a destination for both residents and visitors?

Our proximity to Sioux Falls, the state’s largest shopping destination, presents a challenge to attracting traditional retail options. In addition, recent shifts in the retail marketplace have resulted in big box stores closing locations throughout the country. In order to continue to grow and diversify the retail market in Brookings and create a destination for visitors, the city council established the Downtown Retail Acceleration Grant Program. The purpose of this program is to attract new retail and entertainment concepts to the downtown area and entice dedicated entrepreneurs to available spaces. The city council is particularly interested in helping specialty, niche retailers in the following categories:

– Children/Family Retail-
– General Gifts and Novelties
– Lifestyle and Wellness Retail
– Local and Global Artisans
– Sustainable Food and Microbrewing

Since its inception in 2015, the city council has allocated $50,000 each year to be used as a matching grant fund for qualified applicants. The program is administered by BEDC with a mayor-appointed committee making the funding decisions. To date, close to $100,000 has been awarded to seven new and existing businesses who located downtown or expended their operations there.

Think about all the businesses that have opened and expanded over the last couple of years, keeping our downtown vibrant. This activity is key to retaining existing residents and attracting new people to our community. And, studies show that if you don’t hang out in your own downtown, neither will visitors.

Despite all the recent activity downtown, empty spaces still remain. BEDC is planning an Open Spaces Tour on Saturday, April 22 from 10am-1pm. The Open Spaces Tour will provide entrepreneurs, new business owners and community members an opportunity to see the spaces available for rent downtown. This walking tour event just might be all the spark a person needs to follow through on a new business idea, retail venture or food service concept. Contact BEDC if you are interested in attending.

The downtown retail grant program is just one of the programs available to support and grow local businesses. If you are thinking about expanding your business or starting a new endeavor, give BEDC a call to schedule a free, confidential consultation.

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