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  • Last modified 33 days ago (June 13, 2019)

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The future is now

Drive by JR Hatters and Merchantile at 201 E. Main St. in Marion late some weekend night and you’re as likely as not to see a light on and either Johsie Reid or Erin Page working to stock their new store.

The store’s hours aren’t quite there yet — just weekends, mainly for tourist trade — but the effort they’re putting into their new store, like the effort Brent and Robin Miles are putting into their new Silk Salon at 1240 Commercial Dr. on Marion’s far northern edge, represents both the challenging present and the potentially bright future of economic development here.

Johsie and Erin are tilting at the same windmill (wind farm allusions aside) that was soundly defeated by dedicated organizers of events like Chingawassa Days and Bluegrass at the Lake for the first time years ago.

They’re trying to schedule a community event — in their case, a street dance in July, celebrating Marion and successful conclusion of its Main St. sidewalk renovation.

It’s the type of event the community desperately needs — not just a few scattered big events once a year (though those certainly are nice) but littler things each and every week.

To regularly attract tourists, who are and will continue to be our best hope for driving long-term economic development, we need to convince visitors from outside the area that something always is happening here, either in town or nearby.

That “something” — added to our lakes, our unique antique and arts and crafts businesses, and whatever historic charm we can muster — is what will make Marion and Marion County a worthwhile weekend destination for people whose stays may be brief but who are likely to leave more than a few of their dollars behind and may someday return with more dollars and even jobs.

The problem is, people like Johsie and Erin or Brent and Robin often are left on their own to do everything — the tireless work of lining up participants, securing needed facilities, and then publicizing and operating the event.

You see the same thing on the north edge of the county with George Thiel and others fighting Quixotic battles just to get a single event, Ramona’s Independence Day celebration, organized. And there are countless others, in Florence, in Burns, in Tampa, in Lincolnville, in Aulne, in Lehigh, in Goessel, and elsewhere, all trying to do the same thing.

We talk a lot about infrastructure in this county, but too often we confine such discussions to rural roads, city streets and utilities, and government buildings.

The first challenge of organizing an event is the almost impossible task, as Johsie and Erin indefatigably are finding, of talking to other merchants about potential tie-ins.

They already have lined up Cazadore’s Mexican Restaurant next door, which not only is seeking to provide beverage service but also, on its own, is admirably adding Sunday hours.

But getting everyone else lined up and then navigating all the permissions needed — like the street closure permit they had to obtain from the state — is enough to discourage even slightly less dedicated promoters.

What’s really needed is an organizing infrastructure that can help handle some of the more time-consuming tasks of putting together everything from Peabody’s Fourth Fest and Marion’s Chingawassa Days down to what Johsie and Erin want to do on Marion’s Main St.

Hillsboro has its Chamber of Commerce. Peabody has its Main Street. Others have similar groups, but Marion has none — not since its chamber of commerce abruptly went out of business without so much as a vote of the membership, creating a vacuum that Brent and Robin only recently came to realize was present.

A group of dedicated Marion supporters, including Elgin Hotel owner Tammy Ensey and city economic development director Randy Collett, have been meeting every other week this summer with people like Brent and Robin to try to get something organized.

Their meetings most assuredly aren’t volunteer sign-up sessions — though one tangible effect already has been that Collett’s wife, CB Bakery owner Rachel, stepped in after a discussion this last week to volunteer to coordinate leaderless Marion Farm and Art Market and preserve it as a summer institution.

Rather, these meetings are mainly for gathering ideas, sharing news, and encouraging cooperation. Different merchants show up each time, and all seem to understand that a rising tide raises all boats. Even if their business is unlikely to benefit directly and immediately from tourism traffic, they know that in the long term such traffic is likely to bolster all businesses in town.

What’s needed now is even more involvement. Finding time for meetings sometimes is tough, but the group now has a special email list that will allow anyone interested, for any reason, to receive biweekly updates about the meeting and any other announcements list members might want to share.

It costs nothing to join the list or the discussion, neither of which obligate anyone to do anything. It’s all about information and ideas — positive ones, at that.

It takes just five seconds to get on the list by visiting http://marionkansas.com/mail, but those five seconds might be the best investment you could make on behalf of your business and your community.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified June 13, 2019

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