Whose fault is it that stores don’t stay open late? 

Stores: “We’ll stay open later when enough people come downtown to make it worth our time.”

Customers: “We’ll come downtown later when enough stores stay open late to make it worth our time.”
When I posted this on my Facebook page, it touched off a whole lot of reaction. The comments were mostly from local businesses explaining why they don’t stay open later.  

But for years, the number one complaint I’ve heard about small town businesses has been limited business hours. It doesn’t matter who we blame for it. It does matter that we bring more life and excitement to our downtowns after hours. 

One key to making it work is not going it alone.

  • One business staying open one hour later one night a week is not enough to change the habits of hundreds of potential customers.
  • One-night shopping events, like ladies’ night out, do help get things started.
  • Monthly evening events, like art and shopping walks, also help build a little momentum.  

It takes a whole group of businesses working together staying open several hours later all week long to change the shopping habits of a whole town.

Even your town doesn’t have to go it alone. Bring in neighboring towns. That was one suggestion from Sarah Stouffer in the Facebook comments: 
“Several neighboring towns rotated the evening they were open late. Then you knew which towns to go to for evening shopping. (One town was Monday, then another Tuesday, etc.) The schedule never changed.” 
If you have several towns together in driving distance, that’s a smart approach to reaching critical mass. 

I’ve been thinking and writing about this question for years now, and I’ve accumulated a lot more examples of what has worked for other small towns. 

This topic was the number one choice of people in our recent survey of what you want us to talk about in our next webinar. So that’s what we are doing October 19, “Downtown After 5.” It’s now available for you to sign up, if you’re interested. 

Keep shaping the future of your town,