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Granby turns to expert for advice

by Cindy Kleh
Grand County Homes and Properties

Vibrant, funky downtowns rarely happen by themselves. Usually, they are the product of local businesses, residents and town officials who are focused on the same mission: Creating an inviting, charming downtown area that not only beckons shoppers who drive by, but also assists unique businesses to grow there.

The town of Granby is difficult to define, even for those who have lived there for generations. It’s hard to come up with the adjectives that can do it justice without glossing over some of the colorful characters and history that made Granby what it is today. There are cattle ranches, schools, thriving construction and real estate businesses, and a new state-of-the-art skatepark, library, town hall and firehouse.

But how do you pull the residents and diverse businesses of Granby together to work toward a common goal of “branding” this town and turning up the sales a notch? Of helping the town grow from one more town to drive through along Highway 40 into a must-stop destination for shopping and dining?

Sound kind of un-Granby-like? Well, keep an eye on this town in the next few years, because it has all the necessary ingredients for a lively downtown. And with the help of outside consultant Chuck D’Aprix, an expert in the field of growing downtowns, it’s likely to happen.

Who is Chuck D’Aprix?

D’Aprix labels himself “an economic maverick,” one of the only ones with his level of expertise who is willing to travel the country to actively help towns large and small overcome retail anemia, empty storefronts and forgettable atmospheres. He proposes that communities take matters into their own hands and grow new businesses rather than expend large amounts of time and resources trying to lure existing businesses to relocate or franchise.

D’Aprix has a professional background as a main street manager and an economic development manager, and he is presently the president of three different economic development partnerships. One of those partnerships is the Downtown

Entrepreneurship Project (DEP), a nonprofit organization that assists towns in tapping into their creative energy through entrepreneurship training and support to create a vital, active downtown.

“(DEP is) the foremost expert on attracting, nurturing and growing locally owned independent businesses for downtowns — period,” explains D’Aprix, founder of DEP, which provides consulting services and research, as well as community workshops and comprehensive programs tailored to each specific community. “We can identify potential business owners; we can train entrepreneurs; we can help them find financing; we can provide ongoing support. But just as important, we can train the local leadership to continue the effort.”

There are so many people who would love to own a business — it’s just a matter of finding them, screening them, training them and providing ongoing support. It’s so much easier than begging some business to come to your community. A downtown can be in charge of its own future.”

But what really sets D’Aprix apart from the rest is a total commitment to and passion for revitalizing downtowns by growing small businesses. His excitement is contagious. Many residents of Granby are looking at their hometown with a whole new set of eyes.

(It would seem that the services of someone like D’Aprix would be cost-prohibitive, but because he has run several non-profit downtown and economic agencies, he understands the budgetary constraints of small towns. In fact, D’Aprix provided Granby with a consultant visit Jan. 7-11 for only $5,000, including his accommodations. The visit was funded by the Granby Downtown Enhancement Fund, Grand Mountain Bank, Resort Management Group and Grand County Business and Economic Development Association.)

On his final day in town, D’Aprix gave Granby a summary of what needs to be done and how best to do it.

RX for Downtown Granby

D’Aprix was impressed with Granby’s “Grade A” business plans that are already in place. He complimented the energy and commitment of the town board and Granby’s Downtown Enhancement Director, Betsy Cook. She “is a bright, progressive, results-based professional with extensive main street experience … she intuitively understands what makes a commercial district work.”

D’Aprix also underlined the importance of not losing focus on the businesses that already call Granby home. He has called on them to be mentors of new businesses, and cited many local and national agencies that can be tapped for support in improving existing businesses as well as help for prospective new ones.

He stressed the need to “get the word out that there is a beautiful mountain town that wants entrepreneurs.” He said that nationwide attention could be gained through google.com press releases, Craig’s List and letters to business magazines and to small business centers in the state. He also suggested hosting entrepreneurial conferences in Granby, adding, “this community is amazing when it comes to promotions.”

What Exactly Does Granby Need?

D’Aprix cited a need for a downtown office dedicated to new and existing entrepreneurs. This office would provide books on accounting, law, real estate and motivation, as well as internet access and a room for meetings and classes.

He also found the following types of businesses lacking in Granby’s downtown:

– An upscale, “high-end” restaurant that can serve as a community meeting place. D’Aprix suggested searching for chefs at culinary schools around the country.

– Some type of general goods or small department store … “a place to buy underwear and socks.”

– A women’s clothing and a women’s shoe store. D’Aprix stressed that women in the U.S. do 80 percent of the shopping.

– Another antique store or three. He added that resort communities thrive on critical mass, and that having more selection for the shopper is better for business, even for the existing antique store. He added that with all the high-end second homes in and around Granby, that an additional furniture store would also be beneficial.

D’Aprix suggested that Granby establish its own screening committee to identify entrepreneurs who understand what it means to run a business, adding that not every businesses is suited for entrepreneurship or for Granby. He also stressed the urgency of implementation once the program has been set in motion.

The results of Granby’s “economic checkup” were not all rosey, however. D’Aprix cited high rents in the Granby area as a possible detriment to growing businesses, as well as a dwindling work force, the rising cost of real estate and a shortage of attainable housing. He proposed incentives for building owners to lower rents or the possibility of the town subsidizing rents for businesses.

He conceded that “workforce housing is a serious issue” in Granby and that housing is related to changes in the business complexion: “I’ve got my ‘realistic hat’ on,” but D’Aprix added, “I have very high hopes for Granby. I turned down about one third of the communities that contact me (for assistance). I think that this town can really ‘pop.'”

Time to Put the Rubber to the Road

Cook noted misconceptions among some Granby residents that D’Aprix’s studies are separate from those done by the town in 2004. “Chuck’s proposed plan is really just a method to better implement the existing Downtown Enhancement Plan adopted by the town in November of 2004 as part of the town’s Comprehensive Plan.” Cook and D’Aprix agree that there have been enough studies and that it’s time for

implementation.

Cook studied in Main Street Design under a historic preservation program in college.

She then became the Downtown Development Authority Director of Laramie, Wyo. before she was recruited to Granby. She will give a powerpoint presentation about Granby Downtown Enhancement plans at Granby town hall on Feb. 7 from 6 to 8 p.m. Cook can be reached at (970)) 887-2858.


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