One downtown at a time

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 8, 2007

One of the most important positions in the downtown retail scene was filled this week, and we hope both the position and the person filling that position can succeed in getting new business to the area, keep the businesses already open and generate enthusiasm to make shoppers want to frequent the historic and lovely downtown Franklin area.

Dan Howe was named director of the Downtown Franklin Association. His first day of work was Tuesday; it won’t be the last.

Howe has lived in Franklin for 22 years and comes to the position from a manufacturing background, having served as a manager of Narricot Industries.

As director of the DFA, Howe will need to marry his self-proclaimed “people person” skills with a blend of political lobbying, listening to business people and being able to speak on their behalf. He’ll need to be able to communicate effectively with elected officials, businessmen and would-be shoppers.

At least one other skill needed to be successful in the position, we believe, includes gathering research from other small towns enrolled in a program called “Main Street Virginia” sponsored by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. Some 21 communities across the state participate in the program, and being able to bring to Franklin a sense of what works in other downtowns and what doesn’t work will go a long way to transforming the area into the prosperous endeavor many wish it will become.

“I want us to thrive and grow,” Howe said. “I fully understand the customer concept. I’ve dealt with customers from all over the world.”

For now, improving Franklin will do.

Howe’s ambitions for downtown include getting to know local business owners and their businesses.

“First, you have to take care of what exists,” he said. “What can we do to enhance their businesses? I want to work together with them to improve the quality of their business.

“Also as part of the revitalization of downtown, my goal is to bring more retail and other businesses downtown that people will be interested in visiting and utilizing.

“I think the key to the survival of downtown is to make it grow and improve,” he said. “We have a lot to offer, and already have a good foundation.”

Howe plans on visiting other Main Street communities to see what has worked successfully for those downtowns. The DFA is a member of the Virginia Main Street program, which assists downtowns with revitalization.

“I think it’s important that I’m out there and visible to the people, whether they are business owners or residents. Hopefully, we will also draw people from outside the community.”

He also hopes to broaden the membership of the DFA to prevent the 35 active volunteers from getting overworked.

“This job cannot be successful without a good volunteer base. Franklin has a lot of volunteers. I’ve always been impressed with that.”

Howe said he received a lot of encouragement from people he knew to apply for the job and has an existing rapport with residents and city officials.

“The best way I can thank people for their support is to do a good job,” he said. “If I’m successful, then Franklin is successful in thriving.

“I think everyone wants that.”

Howe is a North Carolina State University graduate and has been married to his wife, Betty, for 12 years.