If you are using events on Facebook to discover what’s happening in your area, you’re not alone. According to the Social Network, 400 million people are doing the same and with a focus on growing hyper-local economies. The yield? “Nearly 30% of all the events people connect to — like concerts, community events and special nights at bars and restaurants — are created by Pages.”
Similar to other online advertising, a local Facebook page can be highly effective in getting people off their couch and out into the wild. It can also galvanize a body of people to try new things, such as Sidewalk Saturday taking place this weekend in downtown Augusta.
One such local Facebook page is the Downtown (Augusta) Lowdown. Primarily a hotspot for downtown business owners, but also for many of those actively supporting and developing the downtown vibe, the Lowdown is full of current information on programs, daily specials, store and restaurant openings, arts, music and more. Created and moderated by CoCo Rubio, owner of Soul Bar and Sky City, the Downtown Lowdown page is a helpful hub of info for its 3,100-plus members.
Unlike an online ad, a Facebook group page provides the option to interact and offer feedback. As a private group, the Lowdown provides a platform for its members to discuss new initiatives — brainstorming and often debating concepts and proposals. Sometimes, the topics die a rapid death; probably one of the easiest ways to gauge if an idea was worth pursuing. Others linger, gathering momentum as more and more members engage in a thorough discussion.
Sidewalk Saturday began as a question posed by member Kimberly Beasley. Beasley owns Curvitude, a boutique on Broad Street. Curvitude is one of several businesses that adopted downtown as their home and committed to growing a thriving downtown community.
The question Beasley asked was simple enough — which downtown businesses would support a Saturday initiative to draw foot traffic downtown during retail hours? Reasons were discussed; the Saturday Market is a great asset to Augusta, as is First Friday, but neither necessarily drove people to the shops in the way a sidewalk event can.
Support for the idea snowballed. The concept came together as experienced owners chimed in with their two cents and a formal meeting to flesh out the details was arranged. By the middle of June, Sidewalk Saturday had its own page and publicity flyer.
Described as a family friendly event, vendors and retailers will combine to offer special offers in the company of street artists, musicians and performers. Participating vendors and retailers from Riverwalk to beyond Broad Street will have sidewalk stands outside their stores displaying their products. How frequently the sidewalk sales take place is still to be determined, but a regular sidewalk event would keep people coming back for more.
“We hope to make this a main attraction for our Augustans and for tourists,” Beasley said. “The vision is to have a robust downtown, not just during peak events but year-round.”
As social networking has proven time and time again, having a great time with others and appreciating the collective local culture creates a vital sense of identity. Real people showing actual support for their community and then sharing that experience online creates a sense of belonging and pride.
“We want people to experience downtown in a positive manner,” Beasley explained. “Downtown is the heart of the city.”
The concept is not a new one, and towns and cities across the world use sidewalk events as a chance to offer bargains to potential customers. For those wandering around it’s a great opportunity to get to know the people behind the businesses and to experience downtown firsthand, rather than relying on gossip and urban myths. There’s no admission fee and no obligation to buy anything. Folks heading downtown can grab a coffee and start walking.
Participating retailers have been doing role call on the Downtown Augusta Sidewalk Saturday page. So far, the diverse selection includes everything from juice joint Humanitree House and retro collectibles, clothing and accessories from Vintage Ooollee to drinks from Flo, vinyl records at Pyramid Music and retro-inspired furnishings from Ashton Brooke Ltd.
Businesses and individuals use social networks such as Twitter and Facebook as an affordable means of reaching the neighbors. It’s the online equivalent of the events section in the paper, or (for those of us who remember) the Soul Bar’s message board. Drowning out competition in a virtual space is as challenging as finding an ad-free area on Washington Road, particularly when it comes to getting people to cross county lines for anything other than big-name retailers or bulk groceries. It takes some heavy advertising to cut through all that noise.
Across town and up the road, Columbia County also gets traction on its events through its Facebook promotion, but not through a central community page. Evans Towne Center Park, for instance, is an unofficial page populated with tagged photos and posts — kids playing in the park, professional photo shoots and user reviews comprise the bulk of the content — while the Evans Towne Farmers Market operates its own page separate from its location.
Evans and Martinez businesses advertise individually and don’t possess the single community page in the same way as downtown’s owners. Partly because sprawling suburbs can’t possibly have an identity based on anything other than proximity and property value, and partly because the area businesses are predominately large, corporate-owned entities.
The development in Columbia County, while providing people with a decent standard of living, doesn’t seem to be as focused on banding together to attract more customers. For some, there’s probably not much need. The Evans Mellow Mushroom page has been “liked” by nearly 4,000 users, while Limelite Café reaches nearly 2,000 people. Healthy numbers for self-promotion.
Efforts are continually being made to create opportunity for locals to enjoy life in the CSRA. In the last decade Columbia and Augusta-Richmond counties have exploded with more of everything; from businesses and organizations to family-friendly events, businesses and individuals are proving up to the challenge of catering to an ever-expanding population. Even the increasing prevalence of “locally grown” and “locally owned” aligns with the national trend toward developing locally supported micro economies.
But, when it comes to growing an interactive and supportive community, there is nothing on Facebook for the Evans or Martinez area. And this is understandable. Downtown Augusta is playing catch-up and it needs all the help it can get. The business owners downtown are fighting for stimulating support from their neighbors — a cash injection, if you will.
The successful implementation of sidewalk sales within numerous cities across the U.S. including Boulder, Colorado, and Greenwich, Connecticut, should encourage the general populous to welcome the establishment of Sidewalk Saturday. Many cities who host sidewalk sales report a marked increase in revenue and revitalization — a move that would significantly contribute toward growing the local marketplace.
Whether Augusta’s own Downtown Sidewalk Saturday can bring in the crowds now seen at First Friday and the Saturday Market will take some time to assess. However, grassroots projects such as these need commitment and engagement from the public and the players — the inclusion of all retailers, entertainers, artists and vendors on Broad Street could be the spark it needs to transform it from a sidewalk bazaar to an organic, self-sustaining celebration of the city.