RICHMOND — Business owners and residents have agreed they need to work together to get people off the interstate and, in their words, “discover Richmond before the rest of the world does.”

“There is so much here, and so many people whizzing by on I-295, we need ways to bring them the 3.5 miles into town,” said resident and business owner Robin Thayer. “How do we tell people it’s not the old Richmond?”

Thayer was among about 50 people who attended a recent gathering in downtown Richmond. Following about two hours of brainstorming and debate, the group settled on 12 steps, four of which Roxanne Eflin, director of the Maine Downtown Center, helped set as top priorities for the year.

The four priorities are: organize a committee to oversee revitalization efforts, create a beautification plan, create an inventory of buildings in town with potential available space and begin cooperative promotions and cross-marketing local businesses and events.

Many of the proposed steps were specific, such as erecting a large sign either on or just off Interstate 295, informing motorists who might otherwise pass Richmond by about businesses and attractions a short drive away in the downtown.

Participants also suggested encouraging businesses just off the interstate exit, such as Gary Emmons’ Exit 43 Quik Stop, to do some cross-promoting with other local businesses, for the benefit of both.

Victoria Boundy, the town’s new community and business development director, organized the gathering in an effort to bring people together to set priorities and brainstorm how to help local businesses and discuss what types of businesses people hope to attract to town, and how best to attract them.

The session was led by Eflin, who suggested testing out the National Main Street approach the Maine Downtown Center uses to help Maine downtowns revitalize themselves, to see if it’s a good fit for Richmond. Eflin said the approach is being used in 2,200 downtowns across the country, and is based on four principles: building the capacity of the local revitalization organization; enhancing the commercial district’s physical appearance through design; promoting the downtown as a destination; and strengthening the economic base through business recruitment and retention in economic restructuring.

Communities that become Main Street Maine communities, such as Bath and Gardiner, must commit to hiring a paid downtown manager. However, a lesser level of involvement, not requiring paid staff, would involve joining the Maine Downtown Network, of which Augusta is a member.

At the start of the session, participants listed off numerous things they love about Richmond.

They included the river, Richmond pride, history, architecture, manufacturing, recreational opportunities, the K & G Hardware store and, first on the list, the Old Goat pub, which hosted the event in its upstairs function room. Participants, some of whom hoisted beers during the session, said the pub has been a destination which has brought more people into Richmond.

The owner of the Old Goat, Scott McIntire, meanwhile, warned against trying to make Richmond something it is not.

“It’s important we don’t try to become the next Hallowell, the next Bath,” he said. “We’re not cutesy. If we try to be what they are, we’re going to be nothing.”

Residents and business owners agreed the town needs to do a better job promoting itself and also provide better places — both physical, in the form of a kiosk in a better location than the seldom used one at the foot of Main Street, and virtual, in the form of easily-accesible online information — where visitors can learn of downtown Richmond’s offerings.

“It’s our time; Richmond needs to be discovered,” said Ryan Cote, a Dresden resident and disc jockey who does business in Richmond. “There are thousands of people driving by every day. We’re missing that opportunity now, every day that goes by.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

DOWNTOWN PRIORITIES


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