Written by The Business Journal Staff
Fresno’s sprawling landscape coupled with the near constant construction on new and updated shopping centers can often make it hard for local businesses to stand apart in the crowd.
Over the last few years various groups have worked to address this trend, and help highlight the benefits of thinking and shopping local.
Downtown Fresno still open for business
Among the most prominent efforts has been the Downtown Fresno Partnership’s (DFP) work to bring more residents to the city’s core. Founded in 2011, the nonprofit group has worked hard over the years to promote the message that “Downtown Fresno is open for business.”
That message has helped spark new life in the region over the last few years, particularly along the Fulton Mall, said Aaron Blair, president and CEO of DFP.
“We see more [activity] in and around the Mall than anywhere else traditionally,” he said. “The Fulton Mall is definitely different than the rest of downtown.”
Among the new shops and restaurants that have opened in recent years are Root General Store, Peeve’s Public House, Take 3 and Casa de Tamales. Several technology businesses have also announced plans to open in buildings along the Mall and the area is quickly gaining a reputation as Fresno’s new tech corridor.
A handful of businesses have closed in the same time period, and Blair said the partnership has been putting a lot of emphasis on Mall vacancies in hopes of bringing in new faces.
“We’re looking to start a downtown investment service with workshops to help raise awareness on how to get in here,” he said. “The series would be for people who want to come learn how to negotiate a better lease, find a good space, market themselves better — really any number of things associated with opening a business here.”
Program details are still being finalized, but Blair said the partnership would formally announce the workshop series at the State of Downtown talk on March 30.
The annual event offers an update on downtown’s revitalization efforts and will feature reports on the ongoing investment from the public and private sector. This year, the partnership is expected to announce nearly $76 million in planned construction from the private sector, and a further $32 million in public investment.
Still, Blair said the group’s efforts are far from over, and the DFP will continue marketing the region as “open for business.”
“We still hear from people or encounter residents who are still uncertain about what’s happening in Downtown Fresno,” he said. “There is a lot of interest with people wanting to come see what we have here, but they don’t always know where to start.”
To help spark ideas and interest, Blair said the group has a standing spot on KSEE 24’s Central Valley Today show every Friday. The partnership typically uses the segment to highlight upcoming events in Downtown Fresno, but will also invite local business partners to come and share their story.
“It’s a good way for them to showcase themselves and market what they’re doing in Downtown Fresno,” he said.
DFP’s Yellow Umbrella Tours are also a popular starting point for those unfamiliar with Downtown Fresno. The events focus on a different part of the community each month and provide a snapshot of what’s the area has to offer.
Going forward, the tours will focus on the different areas of construction along the Fulton Mall. The project is scheduled to break ground on March 3 and Blair said the next Yellow Umbrella Tour would feature the “south superblock” section of the project between Inyo and Tulare avenues.
“We’ll be going over what it’s going to look like once the work is complete and the plans for businesses in the area,” he said.
As the Fulton Mall Project progresses, the nonprofit plans to focus more on the rest of downtown and the revitalization efforts taking place within the rest of the community.
New programs will be introduced using the DFP’s “This is Fresno” app, and Blair said he hopes to introduce an itinerary service to help connect downtown newbies with more experienced residents.
“I think we could do recommendations and plan out a whole evening or day of activities in the downtown area for those who haven’t been here in a while but want to reconnect,” he said. “It would be a great way to highlight the businesses and connect them with a new audience.”
While there are clear benefits to highlighting the local angle of a business to customers, the strategy can also have an impact for owners connecting within the larger business community.
Angielee Soto, a Fresno State marketing and advertising major and founder of local startup Sublime Design Studio, has been working to help local businesses market themselves to each other.
The idea grew out of a project for the Laval Entrepreneur Mentor Program after Soto said she realized few businesses were taking advantage of local network resources.
Working alongside program mentors Caren Myers, general manager of Fresno Lexus, and Vickie Goudreau, owner of Innovation Commercial Flooring, Soto developed the ValleyProud project to highlight ways in which local businesses can connect with each other.
“The whole idea was to show Fresno has people and businesses who coexist and can work together,” she said. “It’s really fun and kind of cool to see businesses marketing themselves with that local angle together.”
The ValleyProud project also focused on showing how larger local businesses can still benefit from working with smaller and mid-size groups for their various supply needs.
“Sometimes as a smaller business you can be intimidated by approaching larger groups,” she said. “By emphasizing how we’re our own little community in the Valley, it sort of strips down your titles and helps build neutral ground for businesses.”