Downtowns are by far one of the most important aspects of any local economy, and it isn’t necessarily due to the jobs, events, or investment opportunities they facilitate. While those aspects are obviously desirable, they ultimately serve as derivatives of why downtowns are a keystone to a community’s success.
Downtowns are usually referenced as the commercial district within a city’s limits. In Brunswick’s case, downtown is broadly defined as Newcastle, Gloucester, and Norwich. What makes downtowns so important is their ability to foster new ideas, innovation, and entrepreneurialism. Businesses can learn from one another, even if they aren’t in the same industry. This was especially important in 2020 as businesses were forced to adapt their daily operations to a pandemic we knew nothing about. Fortunately, businesses in downtown Brunswick were resilient and found ways to stem the tide where other cities struggled. At the very start of the pandemic, many merchants closed up shop to prevent the spread of the virus, which in turn called for innovative ways to operate. All it took was a business owner to look out their window to see a neighboring merchant walking to a car with a customer’s purchase in hand. Even in the virtual world, video conferencing was not specific to those white-collar professions. Retail shops found uses for Zoom, FaceTime, and Google to turn their inventory into dollars by personally shopping for their customers through video chat. Like COVID-19, information spread of a novel way to keep the doors open for business, and as a result, these innovative tactics shielded downtown merchants from the unprecedented gale of COVID-19 related business closures.
Furthermore, the downtown environment positions merchants with the ability to collect customer and market data without a single person walking into a business. Downtowns tend to be a melting pot for commerce, where an accountant can neighbor a restaurant, a restaurant can share a courtyard with a jeweler, and a studio apartment can rest above a boxing gym. As a result of that diversity of industry, customers of all walks of life congregate to main street for various and relative reasons. All a business owner needs to do is simply walk the streets to see where dollars are being spent and find a way to cross-sell their goods or services.
Moreover, economic growth is compounded when corporation and competition is encouraged, and the status quo and apathy is cast aside. Many downtown businesses, such as Silver Bluff Brewing, Brunswick Old Town Tours, and Reid’s Apothecary, are sending a message that downtown Brunswick is changing. Without question, these businesses have generated jobs, capital investment, and economic growth, but their presence is far more impactful when applying a social microscope to their activities. There are things to do, experiences to be had, and good food and drink to be enjoyed. The days of land and property speculation are soon to be a thing of the past in downtown Brunswick, and businesses are working together to make that happen. Yes, speculators might get their just desserts, but it was the collective group of entrepreneurs that did all the leg work. There isn’t any room for idle behavior in 2022’s downtown Brunswick, and it’s innovators and idea makers that are setting that standard.
Finally, viewing downtowns as information and knowledge centers will stimulate growth far more than any campaign to attract capital or labor. In an era of low interest rates and COVID related unemployment, financing and an educated workforce are relatively easy to come by. What is in short supply are ideas. Lucille Ball famously once said, “People either have comedy or they don’t. You can’t teach it to them.” Like comedy, entrepreneurialism is either there or it is not. However, like the comedy club for comedians, cities and downtowns have attracted entrepreneurs and ideas for a millennia and Brunswick is no different. As the city celebrates 250 years since Mark Carr entrepreneurially laid claim to what was then known as Plug Point, Historic Downtown Brunswick still remains a city of entrepreneurs and a proving ground for ideas.