Van Buren Original (VBO), a group of city leaders and business owners formed to foster the development of the downtown historic district, will roll out a four-month endeavor called Living Local starting Sept. 15 and running through Dec. 15.
The festival-style events will go from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. each Thursday evening and will feature extended business hours from 17 of 34 total merchants in the downtown area. In addition to late night shopping, there will be “entertainment on each block, food, music, and each month will feature a theme,” the group said in a recent statement to Talk Business & Politics.
VBO’s downtown revitalization efforts began earlier this year with Van Buren Advertising and Planning’s (A&P) purchase of a no-fare trolley to increase mobility and encourage more pedestrian traffic.
Since that time, VBO has held a number of public meetings to generate more interest and ideas for the district. One of the most commonly repeated comments from those involved is to build events with a “locals first” emphasis. Some of the challenges arising from the goal include the scarcity of sit-down restaurants — downtown Van Buren has only two in the Boomerang Diner and Oliver’s Southern Cuisine — as well as a number of businesses that keep irregular hours.
A 50% participation rate in Living Local highlights the problem, but also speaks to the gaining enthusiasm in the area, which has received two additional boosts of late with the opening of Veterans Park on Main Street and the coming-soon addition of the Center for Arts and Education (CAE). The Center will occupy two buildings at the 400 block just west of the King Opera House.
The CAE has received a grant of $2 million through a private donation it must match through fundraising. According to VBO organizer Rusty Myers, much of the funding is already raised and the efforts should be completed by the end of 2016 “with construction starting next year.”
In a June 23 stakeholders meeting, Van Buren A&P Director Maryl Koeth urged doing “a lot of events,” noting the events “don’t have to be anything expensive, but we need to try things every day on Main Street that are special.” Living Local is viewed as a step in that direction. Its mission is to “offer special events targeted for new and different demographics” and to “create a neighborhood of things for people to take part in while they are here, which makes them want to come back,” the release stated.
Participating businesses will include King Opera House, Creative Furnishings by Jean, the Van Buren Chamber of Commerce, Boomerang Diner, National Treasures, Metro Gallery, Firefly Boutique and Gifts, High Society Upscale Resale, Marcia Cooksey Interiors, Cinders and Smoke, Oliver’s Southern Cuisine, Willy Nilly Various and Sundry, Moz Art Studios and Gallery, Chapters on Main, The Soap Factory, Renee Barrow Insurance, and the Polish Pottery Depot.
DOWNTOWN THEMES AND EVENTS
September’s Living Local theme is “Fall Market.” It will welcome Farmer’s Market vendors to set up under tents in front of the depot during the extended hours.
Other events will run concurrently with Living Local, such as the annual Fall Festival (Oct. 7-9), hosted by the Old Town Merchants Association (OTMA), and Oct. 22’s Second Annual Cruisin’ on Main, which features and encourages participation from classic automobile owners. On Oct. 29, the OTMA will host Halloween on Main.
Nov. 10 will bring the inaugural Art Walk on Main. CAE will spearhead the effort to feature local artists and their works for all four Thursdays in November.
Finally, Living Local will host its first Holiday Market during the three scheduled Thursdays in December.