Despite growing competition from online, mall and big-box retailers, downtowns and main streets are primed to succeed in 2018. Merchants have the ability to offer a personal touch and are vital members of their local communities, important factors for shoppers seeking an experience over convenience.

That’s why EML is excited this year’s Main Street Now Conference is happening in our backyard. March 26-28, professionals will meet in Kansas City to network with their fellow economic development peers and learn how to implement the Main Street Approach® in their communities. I spoke to Donnie Rodgers, Jr., Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street Executive Director, about the conference, changes in the retail landscape and how implementing a gift card program can help recirculate revenue in the local economy. HINT: it involves slashing paper gift certificates from your strategy.


Q: The Main Street Now Conference gives attendees opportunities to learn about innovative methods and practices that make the Main Street Approach a powerful economic development tool. What else can first-time attendees learn from this year’s conference?

A: One of the best things about the Main Street Now Conference is connecting with your peers and sharing your knowledge and experiences in working in main street communities. No two communities are the same, but you’re bound to find someone who has had similar issues to tackle. There’s strength in knowing you’re not alone.


Q: Over the last decade, an influx of consumers researching products online and shopping from their computers and smart phones has led to changes in the retail landscape. Despite recent trends, several downtown and main street destinations have found ways to adapt, thrive, and, even, recirculate revenue in their communities. Downtown Lee’s Summit is a great example of this. Would you share what has been essential to your success and any advice you have for other professionals in the midst of adapting their downtown or main street?

A: Online may win out on convenience, but it can’t replace the experience of shopping local. From inviting storefronts to locally made and sourced products, shopping local wins because the expertise of our business owners. They are crafting a full experience for their customers that you can’t get online.


Q: Besides crash courses, classroom sessions, deep dives and full- and half-day mobile education sessions in Kansas City’s urban neighborhoods and nearby Missouri communities, Downtown Lee’s Summit will be hosting the Big Bash with shopping, dining and entertainment at this year’s Main Street Now Conference. What will festival goers experience from a former Great American Main Street Award® winner?

A: Downtown Lee’s Summit is such a welcoming and inviting place and we’ve been able to keep the small-town charm as our community has grown to almost 100,000 people. We’re highlighting the best of that small-town charm the evening of the Big Bash and it’s all about the people. Friendly faces on every corner and our merchants open late showcasing some of the best shopping and dining in the midwest. Our streets and alleys will come to life with musicians, artists and even a few magicians. You won’t want to miss the surprises we have planned.


Q: While gift cards are a proven tool for simplifying the reconciliation process with participating merchants and increasing the lift value within local communities, many downtown and main street destinations continue to sell paper gift certificates. Why do you think this is the case and has making the transition to a gift card program helped Downtown Lee’s Summit?

A: Our one regret with our gift card program is not starting it sooner! We hosted a downtown gift check program for years and it was just so antiquated and difficult to manage, but still seemed like the best solution possible in working with so many different retailers and restaurants. EML’s gift card program couldn’t be any easier to manage and the 24/7 support gives us peace of mind that both our merchants and customers have the support they need outside of our office hours. We’ve exceeded all expectations on merchant participation and we’ve seen sales grow every month because of the convenience. We love that our gift card program is helping keep more money local.


Q: To promote local shopping, eating and entertainment destinations, downtowns and main streets must keep shoppers and merchants engaged and happy. How does Downtown Lee’s Summit achieve this balance?

A: We’re always listening and not afraid to try something new to improve both the customer and merchant experience in our downtown. The Main Street Now Conference exposes us to new ideas and give us the opportunity to learn from others and bring the best right back to the heart of our community.