From 14,000 to 8: How Downtown Marietta is in the Running for $500,000

Author: Laura Pytlik, Owner of Wit & Whimzy

I don’t recall when I first learned about Small Business Revolution, but I know it was on Facebook.  Scrolling through my feed, I noticed a post about a small retail shop similar to mine and followed the link. That link introduced me to Small Business Revolution (by Deluxe Corporation) and its work in Wabash, Indiana.  Last year, Wabash had beat 10,000 nominated cities and towns to win $500,000 to help revitalize the town and support its small businesses.  I watched a video of their work with one small shop owner, and instantly knew that this prize could be a game changer for Marietta.

The nomination process was a simple questionnaire, asking about our demographics, our community involvement, and if we have any noteworthy festivals and events (that was a fun question to answer!). I completed the questionnaire, hit submit, and went back to work.  I didn’t think too much about it; after all, there were probably thousands of people across the country answering the same questions about their own hometowns.

It wasn’t long after that I received a follow-up email----my nomination had caught their eye, and would I please complete a longer and more descriptive survey.  Now things were getting exciting! I wrote long paragraphs, describing our business community and how it works together.  I shared some of our history, our challenges, even our popular gathering spots and notable business owners.  The folks from Small Business Revolution wanted a true snapshot of Marietta - our successes and challenges, our people and the events and features that are part of our identity.

I am not a “native” Mariettian; I am transplanted here from northeast Ohio.  I don’t even live within the city limits, but a few miles north of town.  However, as a 14-year employee of Marietta College and now as a retail merchant on Front Street, I do spend most of my waking hours in Marietta.  Over the past few years I’ve come to learn how hard the small business owners work to keep Marietta vibrant.  Volunteering for Marietta Main Street, I’ve witnessed first-hand the passion and dedication these people have for their community and the city.

Many people are noticing something, and you may have noticed it yourself.  There is a new energy in Marietta—a sense of turning the corner and seeing bright opportunity.  The city still proudly embraces its past and its important role in history, but now seems ready to embrace the changing future as well. I am privileged to play a small part in this change, and honored to be a new merchant among so many experienced, successful and hard working business people.

And so it was easy for me to describe Marietta to Small Business Revolution.  It was easy to explain the impact of the floods and how some persevered while others lost their livelihoods.  It was easy to describe so many of the special events and festivals that bring visitors and tourism to Marietta and how many volunteers make them possible.  It was easy to explain how the renovation of a historic theatre - now Peoples Bank Theatre - was made possible by a generous donation from Peoples Bank.  And it was almost too easy to portray a community of small businesses who believe in helping each other and those outside of Marietta, including flood victims in West Virginia.

Apparently the judges agreed that Marietta is special; their next step was to have a phone conversation with Cristie Thomas, Executive Director of Marietta Main Street.  I wasn’t in the room for that phone call, but I can just imagine Cristie’s enthusiasm and energy as she expertly fielded questions.  I don’t know a better advocate for Marietta than Cristie, and I’m sure her love of people and this city impressed her interviewer.  It certainly must have---because here we are!  Out of 14,000 nominations, Marietta has been named one of the 8 short-listed cities and towns!  The next step is a visit from the Small Business Revolution team, including a film crew. The next 2 months will be an exciting time of planning, promoting and working together to present Marietta as the best candidate for this incredible award.

Back to the survey I completed - When asked what problems or challenges Marietta needed help with, I answered with a few ideas I knew had been discussed -- vacant properties and the hardship of renovating or selling them, low interest loans for start-ups, physical improvements to attract visitors and enhance downtown.  I’m certain that everyone can list a few of their own priorities and suggest some improvements they feel are needed. 

We should be very proud that among 14,000 nominations, the Small Business Revolution judges saw something special.  They recognized the resilience and dedication of Marietta’s business people and citizens.  They sense what we sense—that Marietta is on the verge of a renaissance of sorts.  And with a $500,000 award, a full webseries on Hulu.com, and the expert assistance of SBR, we could see that renaissance in 2017!


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