Circle the Wagons & other creative small town ideas / by Annette Tait

Let’s say people want to visit your town. Or maybe it’s a special holiday and folks have family who want to come. Your town has a gift shop and café and other interesting things to do, but zero lodging.

What do most folks do? If they aren’t already staying at friends or relatives, they will stay 25-50 miles away in “the city” because it has a hotel. They will also buy gas for their car and eat breakfast before coming your way.

How can you capture those dollars? Circle the wagons –in a manner of speaking. Do you have RV owners in town willing to rent their motorhomes for a few nights?  (Glamping anyone?)

Create a fun experience to be remembered and shared.

Create a fun experience to be remembered and shared.

This is a perfect opportunity to showcase small town hospitality, while also capturing dollars that would have otherwise been spent elsewhere.

The odds are high that, while staying in your town, these folks will shop at the local grocery/gift/hardware store, go out to eat, and purchase gas.

The Shady Dell, Bisbee, Ariz., has made an entire business out of rental campers. Theirs are fully vintage, and available year-round. 

But they wouldn’t have to be. Use your imagination!

So … how is your community supposed to afford that?  You could negotiate a fee, then give a part of that fee to a service club like Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H, or FFA for cleaning the unit(s) when the folks are gone.

Or maybe the community could purchase a couple of older models and re-hab them with the help of the high school shop class and use them year-round. Why not dual purpose units? They’re great for lodging when needed, and can double as pop-up shops. Here’s an example from retailer Nomad -- or maybe local crafters would like to have their own shared location?

Again, get creative and think outside the box.

Look for possibilities -- wouldn't that green space be great for a picnic and playing games?

Look for possibilities -- wouldn't that green space be great for a picnic and playing games?

So let’s say our sample family visits “Town #2.” There’s no lodging and no food, maybe fuel, but still no shops. Nothing -- just a wide spot in the road with some houses. Now what?

These visitors are probably staying with friends or family. But, even with home-grown family entertainment, they still need to be fed. And the nearest anything is miles away. What do you do?

Invite the community to host a free-will breakfast/luncheon/dinner at the old school, the park (if the weather’s good), someone’s house, or at a church. Donations can pay for a main dish and/or picnic supplies, with any proceeds going to a local charity. Invite the whole town to bring potluck dishes and introduce the visitors to everyone!

Good food, new friends, plenty of fun!

Good food, new friends, plenty of fun!

And while they’re visiting, and enjoying local cuisine, make sure to round up every home vendor/foodie/artisan/crafter/small business and have a pop-up show for the entire town. Play games, visit, tell stories … have a fun for all!

Take advantage of every opportunity to showcase what you DO have, versus what you think you don’t have.  And any monies raised can be used towards upkeep on your little two-room stone jail, public park, or some other cause. Perk:  Your guests become part of an extended family, and leave with great stories to tell about the time they spent in your little town.

This approach can produce tremendous results for any town or local area -- you get exposure for the town and the vendors, and event for local residents, and your guests go home with goods purchased locally and a newfound sense of belonging.