Be ready: planning meeting includes retailers, restaurateurs

Front to back, Mayor Terry Gardner, Main Street Director Mahala Hutto, Chamber Chairman Logan McConathy, Chamber CEO Jana Morgan, Tourism Administrative Assistant Johnnye Kennon and residents Rachel Miller and Sara McDaniel.

By Bonnie Culverhouse

Echoing the mantra of an earlier meeting of community leaders, Thursday’s more public get-together of restaurateurs, retailers and others was all about “be ready, be ready, be ready.”

Ready for what? For the possible tourism impact from HGTV’s upcoming episode of Home town Kickstart featuring Minden.

“This is a very important informational meeting on how you can move forward as a business owner in downtown Minden, Homer Road, across Minden, it doesn’t matter where,” Minden Greater Chamber CEO Jana Morgan told those in the audience in Council Chambers at Minden City Hall. “Retail, hospitality, restaurant, it doesn’t matter what you are or where you’re located, we want you to be a part of it.”

Residents Rachel Miller and Sara McDaniel, who were instrumental in bringing HGTV to Minden, made a Power Point presentation and spoke about the impact HGTV has made in other towns with similar demographics.

“If what happens in Wetumpka, Ala. and Laurel, Miss. happens here, we are in for a once of a lifetime opportunity,” McDaniel said. 

Tourism in Wetumpka increase 600 percent, bringing sales taxes to a 300 percent increase.

While retailers will need to be well stocked before the tourism rush, all businesses need a social media presence, McDaniel said.

“Facebook, Instagram, those places are free,” she said. “Restaurants, if you don’t already, post a menu, so people coming to town will know where they want to eat. When you are doing things behind the scenes, whether it’s painting your door, unloading food or cooking it, post pictures.”

Other advice included opening your Facebook page for reviews.

“Create content frequently … at least three to five times a week,” McDaniel said. “And keep your social media and website free of politics. That’s not what people want to see from a place like Minden.”

In addition, it was suggested that businesses and restaurants take extra steps to “spruce up,” by painting doors and offering clean, public restrooms.

“Outdoor seating is always popular, and people travel with their pets,” McDaniel pointed out. “Make sure you have a place where they can eat outside and pets are welcome. Do you take Apple Pay or Google Pay? Credit cards? These are all important things to do. Most people don’t travel with cash.”

During tourist season, Thursday through Sunday are the busiest days for restaurants.

“Make sure you are adequately staffed,” McDaniel said. “We want them to eat and shop here and then hop on their social media and say they had a great time in Minden.”

Miller pointed out that it is important for businesses to “look open” and welcoming.

“There is so little you have to do for that to happen,” she said. “It takes an hour to paint your door. Put out guestbooks for people to sign. Hang a map that has a place for pushpins where people who come from other parts of the country can put a pushpin from their own home town, and it’s obvious where everyone has come from to visit Minden.”

Minden Main Street Director Mahala Hutto said maps of retail businesses and restaurants would also be available.

“We are very fortunate that most of our downtown area is full,” Hutto said. “We are going to spread out from there. It’s the whole community, and that’s what we want to focus on.”

Webster Parish Tourism Administrative Assistant Johnnye Kennon said there will be brochures available showing things to do locally. She asked for help in determining places that would be open on weekends where tourists could acquire those brochures and maps.

Mayor Terry Gardner advised business owners to order now.

“Extra inventory is hard to get,” Gardner said. “You want to be ready when they get here. You don’t want to have to close because you didn’t have enough things to sell or because you didn’t have enough help and became too exhausted.”

He also talked about people who may visit and then get home and wish they had made a purchase.

“Be prepared to ship a product,” he said. “Have business cards in your store that have all your contact information.”

There is still no exact air date for the Minden episode of Home town Kickstart. Until then, there will be other planning meetings where a possible farmer’s market and lodging will be discussed.

For more information on how your business can be prepared, contact the Greater Minden Chamber of Commerce and Webster Parish Tourism, 318-377-4240.