“Boring,” “empty,” and “old” were three of the words that frequently came to mind when people were asked to think about Downtown Winamac. National Main Street Center Senior Program Officer and Director of Coordinating Program Services Kathy La Plante shared the results of an online survey the center recently conducted, during a public input session Thursday night.
“Then we asked, ‘What are the top three issues that are facing downtown?’ So ‘What should we be addressing fairly quickly?'” she added. “And one is that store variety, so that relates back to the boring and the empty storefronts, is people want to see more options for businesses here.” The main draw for Downtown Winamac, based on the survey, appears to be its restaurants, but respondents said they’d like to see more coffee shops, bakeries, clothing stores, and maybe a brewery.
La Plante also presented a great deal of market data. The statistics showed that those living near Downtown Winamac had to travel elsewhere to obtain most types of goods and services. The exceptions were car dealers and auto-related businesses, grocery stores, gas stations, florists, used merchandise stores, and restaurants.
La Plante said that in addition to fulfilling the day-to-day needs of Winamac residents and building on the area’s success with its restaurants, another big opportunity is the visitors taking advantage of nearby outdoor recreation opportunities, like the Tippecanoe River, the state park, and the Panhandle Pathway. “So it means connecting those things to your business community, so how might we be able to do that? And it could include any of those categories: outfitters, equipment sales, restaurants absolutely, accommodations,” she explained, “and then we have to think about the activities that we could host, maybe, in the downtown that would pull them away from where they are and get them into the downtown district.”
When it comes to giving people a place to stay, La Plante pointed out some creative options, rather than a traditional hotel. For example, a community in Oregon has developed an inexpensive “Tiny House Hotel,” by placing five tiny houses on a previously-vacant lot.
Some of those in attendance pointed out some of the other challenges faced by Downtown Winamac, including the high cost of utilities in the old buildings. They also discussed some potential ideas, like setting up a space for rotating pop-up businesses.
Ultimately, La Plante recommended hiring a paid Main Street director, to help lead those efforts. Pulaski County Community Development Commission Executive Director Nathan Origer suggested having a county-wide director, who would oversee both Winamac and Francesville’s Main Street organizations. Funding could be requested from the towns, the county, and local businesses.
Thursday’s input session was part of a larger workshop to develop a transformation strategy based on market-based data. Winamac is one of seven Indiana Main Street communities that are getting such a workshop, as part of a pilot program sponsored by the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs.