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GOLDSMITH: Downtown Mitchell is relevant, busy and thriving

By Molly Goldsmith

Mitchell Main Street & Beyond

New Year's may have come and gone for the general public, but in the Mitchell Main Street & Beyond office, we are gearing up for our own version of New Year's Day, our annual membership meeting. It is an opportunity to share the past year and to present the goals and projects for the upcoming year with all of our 107 members. The meeting is always a family gathering, with the downtown business owners coming together to share their successes, and struggles with their neighbors who each, individually, keep the community's hub thriving as the city's center.

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The annual meeting allows us to revisit a familiar enough story. Seven years ago, Mitchell Main Street & Beyond was founded with some big plans in mind and some enthusiastic volunteers: fill empty storefronts, aid existing businesses in strengthening themselves and beautifying the historic commercial district. While MMS&B embodies the spirit of downtown, it's an important event as we share just how far we've made it.

We have had highs and lows over the years attempting to establish these plans; big successes and opportunities to learn. These days we're experiencing a lot of highs: expanded family programming, great reception to the Downtown Streetscape Project, a main floor occupancy rate of 94 percent, a net of six businesses in the last year and a dramatic increase in taxable sales from $23.3 million in 2011 to $38.8 million in 2013.

Nevertheless, there are some who may say that they don't see a difference in downtown Mitchell. But we ask the inevitable, "Where are you looking?"

Every day we see changes. Those changes may be physical -- new lines of merchandise gracing the storefront windows or a coat of paint on a façade. But some of them are the ones you may not think about: a business gaining traction and finding the need to hire its first employee, or the mature, thriving business person who is able to provide advice to someone who is just getting started. Downtown is excited for all of the changes, and the businesses take them all in stride, as a team and as a community.

Businesses are not "fleeing" downtown. Just as a successful family who has outgrown its first starter home, as successes grow, that starter home becomes too small for the family. The ideal climate for a starter business is just the same. Success equals growth, and we are so pleased that their starter homes were in downtown Mitchell, and they earned the ability to grow bigger. For we are not big boxes downtown; we are specialty, small, starters, "just the right size" for businesses to flourish.

As we looked down the street from a recently renovated loft, we saw the activity, the mingling between individuals of this community. We thank the people who still see downtown as their favorite place, those who envision the future of a greener downtown, to those who invest with their businesses, property and sweat. And, to those who aid the mission of MMS&B to maximize the economic potential and preserve the heritage and sense of place in Mitchell's historic commercial district by utilizing the Main Street Four-Point Approach in emphasizing economic development within the context of historic preservation. This is the community spirit that provides the very future for the children we want to keep here. In the spirit of supporting locals with local consumerism and living, we thank our fellow downtowners for keeping your Main Street alive.

-Molly Goldsmith, of Mitchell, is the executive director of Mitchell Main Street & Beyond.