Brooks: Downtown Shawano not reaching its potential

Tourism expert urges later hours, plaza area
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Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Downtown Shawano does not have much curb appeal or sidewalk enticements to pull people into the businesses, according to Roger Brooks. He recommends more seating for visitors and more sidewalk decor.

Editor’s note: This is the second of two stories addressing an assessment conducted last week of tourism potential in Shawano and Menominee counties.

Businesses in downtown Shawano received good marks for interior appeal on a recent tourism assessment done by Roger Brooks International but lower grades for enticing people into their shops.

Roger Brooks, chief executive officer for the tourism consulting firm, gave two key recommendations for improving downtown Shawano: more focus on drawing people to the area after 6 p.m. and development of a downtown plaza.

His urged the city and the Shawano Country Chamber of Commerce to adopt a “10-10-10 approach” — having at least 10 food establishments, 10 retail shops and 10 places that are open after 6 p.m.

“If you want your downtown to be a tourist destination, this is what you need to do,” Brooks said. “You need to have a bike shop. You need to have an ice cream shop. You need to have another coffee shop. If you had five more restaurants, you’d have people coming from Green Bay every weekend to dine here.”

Brooks also suggested creating a downtown plaza. He said he was aware of the improvements being made at nearby Franklin Park, but he recommended against the park being the official plaza because it is located at the “back door” of the downtown.

A parking area at the intersection of Main and Green Bay streets, next to the former Badgers Furniture store, seemed perfect, he said, for a downtown plaza where people could congregate for events or to socialize.

Brooks, who spent a week studying business and tourism opportunities in Shawano and Menominee counties, told area business leaders and owners at a conference Monday in Keshena that Shawano’s downtown looks unremarkable compared with other meccas in northeast Wisconsin.

Brooks said downtowns need to be vibrant and full of people, and there was little of either during the times he visited Shawano.

A key problem is that there are few businesses open downtown after 6 p.m., Brooks said.

“The future of downtowns is where we go after work and on the weekends,” he said. “The future of downtowns is not 9 to 6, folks. The future of downtowns is 10 to 9 or 11 to 9.”

Brooks suggested getting building owners involved and encouraging them to require, as part of a business’s lease, that tenants stay open later.

Downtown Shawano also lacks “blade” signage, signs that stick out and attract pedestrian traffic as they browse the shops, according to Brooks. Bonduel’s downtown has that type of signage, he said.

Brooks noted that signs need to be low to be visible, as the line of sight for drivers is about 12 feet. Most downtown signs are high on buildings, which makes it hard for drivers to see what shops are downtown.

Brooks counted 13 vacant buildings on Main Street, from Fifth Street to Presbyterian Street. However, some of those places still have window displays and open signs, which can confuse visitors, he said.

Brooks praised the signs that are in some vacant businesses that highlight area attractions such as the barn quilts and the Shawano Ski Sharks, and the efforts of Anew Tea Emporium, which includes tables and chairs to enhance its appeal.

However, curb appeal in general is lacking, Brooks said, with no sidewalk seating at eating establishments and very few places to sit, save for the benches at the mid-point crosswalk.

Brooks said the sidewalks should have plenty of places for people to relax and enjoy a meal if they choose not to sit in a crowded restaurant.

Some downtown businesses have what he described as a “garage sale look” with clothing racks and folding tables being the norm instead of sidewalk planters, flowers and shrubbery.

“A lot of businesses do nothing to pull people in,” he said.

Brooks has conducted similar assessments for more than 1,500 communities, including 40 in Wisconsin. He was brought here to do a “secret shop” of Shawano and Menominee counties through funding from Shawano Country Vision 2017 and the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.