‘I Wish This Was…’

Those walking along Front Street in mid-May might have noticed large posters dotted on empty storefronts that, unlike a typical advertisement, encouraged passersby to write on them.

Marietta Main Street, with collaboration from both its design and business enhancement committees, put up posters for the May 9 Merchants and Artist Walk weekend with “I Wish This Was…” printed across the top.

Passersby were encouraged to write down wishes for businesses they would like to see move into the storefront, and now, Marietta Main Street crews are compiling feedback and working to make those dreams a reality.

“This started out as an idea from our design committee, which is supposed to make the place beautiful and help brighten up empty facades,” said Marietta Main Street Executive Director Jean Farmer. “From there, it’s going to our business enhancement committee with the goal to fill those empty businesses.”

The posters were put up in 10 empty storefronts, mostly along Front Street with a few along Putnam and Butler streets, and stayed up throughout the weekend to gather input.

“We tallied up their results, and those who offered their opinions were really rooting for a bakery, coffee shop or any quick, in-and-out place,” said Judy Phillips, who serves on the design committee.

Phillips said one of the broad things people requested was any kind of quick eatery or coffee shop that opens at early hours to accommodate work schedules.

“I try to get a cup of hot chocolate, but you can’t get much early in the morning, and I don’t want to go to McDonald’s or Wendy’s for that,” she said.

Other frequent requests were for bookstores or popular chains like Panera Bread.

Flite Freimann, the chair of the business enhancement committee, said the goal of the project fits into an overarching goal to retain existing businesses, recruit new ones and further market the availability downtown.

“No matter how many glossy brochures we make and no matter how many testimonials we get, if someone is walking downtown and sees vacancy after vacancy, that’s not good,” he said.

Freimann said the business committee is in the process of creating an online listing of all empty spaces downtown, including added amenities and location, so that potential business owners can easily see what is available, whether they are in Parkersburg or Denver.

“Someone might be sitting in Marietta right now wanting to open a business but thinking there’s not enough community support,” Freimann said.

Currently, Marietta Main Street could not confirm any finalized deals for new businesses, but Freimann said the responses from the informal survey are not only encouraging but a positive step in the right direction.

“It’s about highlighting how active and excited the people of Marietta are about making the community a better place,” he said. “It shows to people outside of here that we have a group of citizens committed to keeping this an exciting town.”

Phillips said part of the project is also encouraging existing businesses to keep storefronts looking fresh and well-kept, a concept that is easier to do on a dime.

“We envision making owners aware of the importance of having clean, attractive displays that are changed frequently, and we want them to clean up, paint and fix torn awnings,” Phillips said.

Freimann said some of the requests written on the posters were for businesses and services that actually already existed, sometimes even right near where the poster was placed.

“These are people who already made an effort to be downtown and to spend money,” he said. “So if people do not know a business is there, we need to make the effort to go them and help them get their message out better.”

Main Street plans on publishing all the results soon to further attract potential business owners.

Sarah Pytlik, an architect who serves on the design committee, encouraged people to not just see vacancies as empty stores.

“This space isn’t empty, it’s full of opportunity,” she said. “We see it as potential, and we want people walking by to see what could be done with it.”