Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias It's easy, especially for those of us who have lived in Vermillion long enough to become familiar with it, to suffer the "ho-hums" as we drive down Main Street.

Large buildings that once housed Sears and Maurice's remain empty. And like tulips in spring, more for sale signs have sprouted downtown.

Before we get all down in the dumps, however, we must remember something. Vermillion finds itself standing on the cusp of exciting times right now.

Lewis & Clark fever soon will be sweeping the Midwest, and Vermillion will be right in the middle of it. As I type this, contractors are clearing the way for the Missouri River bridge that will link the city to Newcastle, NE and add a new dimension to our community's trade area.

Vermillion demonstrated earlier this spring that with a cooperative spirit, great things, like Operation Pride, the community clean-up project can be accomplished. The Chamber of Commerce and Vermillion Beautiful, Inc. are doing their best to make sure similar efforts continue.

But is this enough?

It's a question I pondered as I rummaged through some old files on my desk and ran across a couple newspaper clippings. One clipping contained a story featuring tourism expert Peter Tarlow.

According to Tarlow, communities need to have a theme that ties up their uniqueness with a bow so that it can be easily marketed. And he said towns and cities need to take community pride in who we are.

"Be prideful in what you do," Tarlow was quoted in the news story. "Employees must know what's going on in concerts, plays, sports, museums. You also must have a pretty environment. You want your city to be pretty, with landscaping. People must take care of their property. Tourism requires an educated group of people."

The second clipping is about the small town of Waynesville, OH.

Where the heck is Waynesville?, you may ask. It's not the "where" that makes tiny Waynesville great. It's the "what" that puts this small town on the map.

This quiet little country town east of Dayton found itself struggling in the early 1970s. Main street businesses watched with alarm as their customers flocked to the big malls in Dayton and Cincinnati.

The local hardware store, auto parts outlet and the small department store � as well as most other businesses � were feeling the pinch of increased competition.

Enter Cap Stubbs, who had retired in 1969 from a successful funeral home business but found that having nothing to do wasn't the life he had dreamed of. So he opened an antique shop, the third one in town.

Business was good, and he thought that his store would do even better if even more people would get into the business. So he started talking up the idea. Some other antique dealers based in other towns bought into the concept.

Today, Waynesville, pop. 2,400, touts itself as the "antique capital of the Midwest."

Waynesville has found success by focusing on one theme. In some ways, it is similar to Deadwood, except that most of the stores are antique shops instead of casinos. In fact, there are approximately 35 antique shops and 35 specialty shops in the downtown area.

Add to this some restaurants and art galleries and you have part of the formula for success.

Waynesville's good fortune isn't just about a concentration of antique shops, although that is its trademark today. The main street is "historic," which in this case doesn't just mean old. It's old, in a quaint sort of way. Huge pots of flowers are everywhere. Sidewalk benches await tired shoppers. Several gazebos help set a mood of an earlier, less hurried time. And of course, the storefronts are immaculate in their oldness.

This atmosphere is in sharp contrast to today's shopping malls. The idea wasn't to duplicate or imitate the mall concept. Some successful downtowns, like Waynesville, have focused on their uniqueness.

Vermillion is facing some exciting times. By striking the right theme and heeding the advice offered by Tarlow, its success could be even greater than most of us can imagine.

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