How do you define success in a downtown business district?

I read Successful Smaller Downtowns & Business Districts: What Every Businessperson, Property Owner, and Municipal Official Should Know, by John L. Gann Jr., and got some inspirations for downtown Gilroy.
This manual, which is targeted at business owners and municipal lawmakers, was written to help save those whose fortunes and futures are tied to the well-being of city business districts.
Defining Success—The first key to success outlined by Gann is defining what success looks like. Success can mean many things, but the author says downtown business success is defined by how well it attracts people, not how fancy the buildings are.
Focusing on Consumers—One common mistake made by urban planners and business owners is forgetting that the success of a business district is tied to the success of businesses in the district. Gann says successful business owners work to provide goods and services customers demand, allowing the superficialities to work themselves out. “What draws them is not beautification, but merchandise—farm fresh groceries, art, crafts, hard-to-find specialty items, and good things to eat and drink on the spot:” Gann wrote. “No one cares about building facades or street furniture. People just want to buy or sell. That’s pretty much the definition of a business area.”
Residents and Consumers—Older business areas should grow, intensify their housing stock and retain the best kinds of activities to bring and keep more people downtown longer and more frequently.”
Real-World Examples—The core lesson underlying every part of Gann’s book is one every business leader and elected official should learn in order to properly promote economic revitalization in their cities: When businesses and government help consumers get what they want, everyone wins.
On the whole, Successful Smaller Downtowns & Business Districts conveys a vast amount of real-world experiences instead of abstract theories and Gann fills his book with many actionable suggestions. Gann shows readers the importance of emulating models employed by successful businesses, such as Wal-Mart and Starbucks, which Gann says has been able to overcome its status as “just another coffee shop” by creating a distinct “feel” associated with the brand.
The takeaway for downtown Gilroy is to identify our own authentic brand and “feel” and to accurately identify and deliver the goods and services that the market is seeking. While it is great to focus on aesthetics or our many historic buildings it is not what will make downtown successful, it is only people spending money in the downtown businesses that will.
Gary Walton is president of the Downtown Association and owns buildings downtown.


  1. Dear Friend, Good advice from an old War Horse. And congratulations on being named Gilroy’s Man of the Year. I’m with you. We need less government, not more. We need local government to get off small business and very small business (no employee sole proprietors) back, and reverse decades of regulations, ordinances, etc., and confiscatory taxes/fees which the politicians use to fund their bankrupt boondoggles, e.g., VTA, Caltrain, COG, County Transit, etc., and competing with the private sector carriers in violation of over-arching federal regulations prohibiting government from doing that.
    When I served on Governor Wilson’s Regulatory Reform Roundtable, we concluded that we need less regulations, and fewer taxes/fees, which Gov. Wilson made into his Executive Order. So, what did the Legislature do? Just the opposite. Higher taxes/fees, more regulations. Forcing many small business owners out of business or into Bankruptcy Court, or both, on their way out of California to more business-friendly States. It’s more than 1/2 million who’ve fled so far, and more of us babyboomers following them. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard a small business owner at his First Meeting of Creditors at the Bankruptcy Courts, from San Diego to Redding, in all four Federal Districts of California, say, “Why does the government persecute us so?”
    Local government measures success by how many empty bus or train seats that they run on boondoggle transit, forcing motorists to pay 99% of the cost of the boondoggles’ riders’ rides. They treat motorists like cigarette smokers.
    Local government socialism has us on the Road to Serfdom. What til the Bullet Train hits, and its price-tag is owned by the motorists, and their multi-billion annual operating losses, too, combined with the multi-billion losses of current transit boondoggles.
    Remember the downtown meeting called by our former Mayor, when I pasted all the red blood-sucking leeches on the nude mannikin?
    Well, now there’s so many leeches that there’s not an inch of space on the small business owner’s skin to stick on another leech. This is the real world for the persecuted small and very small business owner in Gilroy and all the other California towns.
    Caveat viator.
    Joseph P. Thompson, Esq.
    Past-President (2x), Gilroy-Morgan Hill Bar Assn.
    (408) 848-5506
    e-Mail: [email protected]

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