The number one complaint I hear about small town businesses is limited shopping hours. In our busy world, people want to shop in evenings and on weekends, but small town businesses tend to be closed then.
When we talked about this in my newsletter group, Nora wrote back with an important stumbling block: it’s dark. Really dark.
Nora owns a store, the anchor for their three-block downtown area. She closes at 5 pm because there are no streetlights. Without streetlights, it’s much too dark for customers to feel comfortable after 5 pm most of the year.
“My customers do not want to shop at night,” Nora said, “and I know I lose a good deal of business….Except for three summer months, I feel like staying open and having employees to help cover is useless. Do other towns have this problem, and how have they solved it?”
Nora is asking the right question: what do other towns do? And our newsletter group stepped up with some great suggestions.
I kicked off the discussion with three points:
1. Get a group together.
Are there other kinds of businesses that stay open late, or might consider it, anywhere nearby? Maybe a restaurant, bar, club, fitness place, nail salon, or something entirely different? You want to find other business owners who will work with you on your lighting project.
2. Light up a special event.
With you and the group together, consider a lighted mini-festival or special shopping event downtown. With enough light, you may be able to draw people for the special event and prove it’s worth the investment. To test this, you might try temporary exterior lights in front of your store and other participating businesses. Maybe you can hang up white Christmas lights over the sidewalk. Maybe you could borrow some portable work lights on stands, like construction companies use. Those would add a lot of light and would be inexpensive to test. Maybe have a fun theme for the event, like “torchlight parade” or something. Then if you can get customers to participate and shop, you can investigate more permanent lighting solutions.
Here are some photos of lighting alternatives for inspiration:
- LED light strands across an alley
- White light strings supplement insufficient street lights
- Paper lanterns as streetlights in Beijing (think what fun you could have with this idea!)
3. Ask your electric company.
My electric utility offers security lights on poles for businesses. The cost is reasonable per month, and I have one behind my store. So check with your utility. And see if others in your group will join with you getting a pole light.
People are like moths
Brad Jones, BookSmart Enterprises Inc., replied with some basic psychology:
“People, like moths, are attracted to light. LED lights are cheap to run and have really come down in price. Light up the front of your store (and sidewalk) like it is daylight and people will stop just to see what’s going on. Bright lights also have the effect of chasing off cockroaches, both human and insects alike.”
Solar + LED = Win!
Mark Matthews, chief executive of Advance Cairns in Australia, suggested, “Have those businesses though to invest a small amount each to purchase a solar led light they could put on their business. If a number of them did this, then the area would be well lit. It’s really cheap! And you don’t have to wait for the power company..”
Raise the money yourself
Cecil Carter said, “What has happened to several towns I’ve worked in it that the funds were raised privately. In one town it was $65,000 with the city and power company with a small amount of in-kind help. In another small town they did it all. In another town they did 4 blocks of main street with private donations. It can be done even in small towns. AND in the summer it is light until 9:00pm.”
Join the group
If you’d like to be part of our smart group of rural people, join us. You’ll get one email each week that shares a positive view of rural, discusses an issue common in small towns, or gives an idea you can run with. Just sign up here, and you can leave the list any time, no hard feelings.
- Community engagement planning: old way vs. Idea Friendly way - October 3, 2021
- Boost your maker economy with a “Made in” day - September 17, 2021
- How a ghost town made something from nothing with a folk festival - September 3, 2021
- Rural business idea: sell foraged fruits and more - August 3, 2021
- Best practices for rural housing - July 19, 2021
- How to be more open to new ideas #IdeaFriendly - July 3, 2021
- Market your small town as a movie filming location, attract movie and game fan tourists - June 28, 2021
- Survey of Rural Challenges 2021 results, analysis of themes from 2015 through today - June 7, 2021
- What makes a small town a micropolitan or nanopolitan? - May 22, 2021
- Improving Rural Housing: turning blighted dilapidated houses into new homes - May 7, 2021