Paul W. Barada
The 29th of September was a day worth remembering. The Chamber-sponsored RushFest was absolutely a smashing success! There were more people in downtown Rushville than I’ve seen in years. It actually reminded me of the Saturdays when I was a small kid growing up here when the streets were full of people and there were many things to do in downtown Rushville, particularly when shopping was on people’s agendas.
If you had any part of this year’s RushFest, you’ll have to agree that downtown Rushville was crowded with people. The trick now is to figure out how to make that happen more than once each year!
It is amazing what can be accomplished in this community when some leadership is exerted and when people see the benefit to putting on an event of this magnitude.
Taken in the broader perspective, RushFest is indicative of the positive momentum in this community. For the first time that I can remember, we now have energetic people in key leadership roles. Sandy Fussner, obviously, is doing a great job with the Chamber. The same is true of Jim Finan with the Economic Development Corporation. Faith Mock is the new staff person with the Rush Memorial Hospital Foundation, and Marianne Scott is heading up the school corporation’s new Legacy Fund. Key people are finally in key positions, all of which exist to help make this community an even better place in which to live. The city administration, headed up by Mayor Mike Pavey, Councilman Brian Sheehan, and the county commissioners all seem to be helping make good things happen in this community.
There also seems to be a new enthusiasm among a few downtown businesses in terms of fixing up the facades of their buildings. A great deal of work, for example, seems to be going on at the intersection of Third and Main streets. At the same time, one must ask if we’ll ever get back to the glory days of a vibrant and thriving central business district. It could be done, but it would take a lot of hard work by both city and civic organizations to even come close to what we saw on a regular basis during RushFest two Saturdays ago. But the point is, it could be done. There are enough people in place now that making it happen seems possible, not necessarily probable, but possible.
I honestly doubt if we’ll ever see the Bill Wardian vision of downtown Rushville that he remembers from the halcyon days of his youth. But that’s not to say we shouldn’t try! As I’ve written before, having an attractive community is one of the keys to attracting more people to live in Rush County. And if we are going to try, what’s probably needed is an after-action analysis of RushFest to see what attracted people to the downtown area. We need to know what worked and what didn’t work. Was it the vendors? Was it for shopping? Was it curiosity? And what was the makeup of the crowd? Were they local people or people from out of town? Did entertainment draw the crowd? Or was it a combination of all the foregoing? We need to know that so a plan can be developed to see if we can draw people back downtown more often. One would think that there are many ways to increase the number of people coming to the central business district on a more regular basis. Do we need special promotions by downtown merchants? Do we need live entertainment in Willkie Park? Do we need a few food vendors here and there? All of these and many more questions need to be answered if our objective is to revitalize the downtown area.
It’s fairly certain that we can’t have a parade once a month. But it hasn’t been all that long ago when the old Rushville National Bank sponsored auto shows downtown – not antique autos just to look at, but inviting the car dealers in town to bring down a few new cars to display on Second Street. You would think looking at new and used cars for sale would generate more people downtown. One year, the bank even sponsored a boat show on Second Street! Traffic headed toward Connersville was simply re-routed around the courthouse, and Second Street between Main and Perkins was blocked, except for pedestrian traffic.
To be honest, it would seem that, with just a little imagination, we could come up with one event per month to being people back downtown. With the upcoming holiday season just around the corner, how difficult would it be to convince downtown merchants to stay open late one night per week leading up to Christmas and to offer some type of “special” promotion to get people back downtown to shop. With stores open and illuminated, Christmas decorations up, and carolers singing holiday melodies, one would think that people would come downtown. If properly coordinated, it seems like an ideal project for the Chamber and the Heart of Rushville to undertake as the holiday season approaches. All that’s really needed is to convince downtown merchants to stay open late one night per week during November and December. Surely, that could be done. And if new life can be generated into downtown Rushville, perhaps other small entrepreneurs will see the chance to prosper during a “Downtown for the Holidays” promotion. (I hope Sandy Fussner reads this week’s column.)
That’s –30- for this week.