Many try to be unique, but few succeed
It's no different in Montana, Oregon, Washington or Utah. Every area, town or city I have lived in is trying to create a niche for its community. Often this is a name or an event or a life-style that not only draws tourists but creates pride and awareness for its locals. From being on numerous committees over the years and seeing numerous efforts, I have found that many communities try hard in these endeavors, but only a handful succeed.
Several months ago I was also asked to assist in developing a logo or slogan for our area. It is a project sponsored by the tourism and economic development agencies.
Just recently I was asked to serve on another committee initiated by Price City where one of their goals is to improve the image of the city on the Wasatch Front and with other neighboring residents. In that first meeting we discussed their perception of us, vehicles we could employ to change the negative images they have, and ideas to develop images that we can build on. It was an excellent meeting and the beginning of some positive changes I am sure.
But both these committees are working on virtually the same thing. How do we become one of Utah's destination locations? How do we "brand" or market our community as unique, interesting, attractive, and a place that families want to pack up and come to for a great weekend?
Recently I picked up the St. George newspaper and it carried a feature story on what Sacramento, Calif. is doing to spruce up its historic "old town" to create the exact same image as I have been talking about. It seems as though every city that has succeeded centers some of its uniqueness around museums, antique stores or shops, interesting and fun restaurants, and celebrations or festivals. Often these towns or cities tie in historical buildings and unique shopping opportunities, trying to set themselves apart from the next city or the neighboring attraction.
Some areas that I am familiar with in the northwest that stand out in my mind as being very successful include two in Washington state.
The Sunnyside, WA. area in the southeast corner of the state has created an incredible following because of its detailed murals on all the downtown buildings. This is not new to communities but the town has secured thousands of dollars in grants over the years and have created the entire history of Washington on the walls of their city streets.
But the most famous Washington community is Leavenworth, located almost smack in the center of the state, over a hundred miles from the ocean of Seattle. Yet each year, thousands of tourists flock there because of its unique "Bohemian" community that has been created. Their streets are filled with unique shops and restaurants and the art shows, jazz festivals and Christmas parades are jammed with tourists week after week.
In Oregon, I was part of a redevelopment effort in Pendleton, where the organizers transformed that town into a "western" experience, complete with new store fronts, wooden sidewalks and early period lampposts along with an historic underground tour.
The town's entire transformation centered around an event that is more than 110 years old - the infamous Pendleton Roundup.
Recently, I have been serving on the Helper Arts Festival committee.
On Saturday as I walked north on Helper's Main Street among the hundreds of visitors and venders, I looked up and down the roadways and realized that community is doing exactly what so many others are trying to do.
The city is taking on the image of an art community.
The historical mining and railroad museum that anchors the town, the little galleries that are beginning to line the streets, all housed in historical, impressive old brick buildings, and numerous antique shops.
Even as I walked up the street with the Balance Rock looming high above my head, a train made its way along the edge of Main Street, blowing its whistle as if it were all timed to create the image of a very special place to be at that moment.
I heard several visitors commenting that the art displayed at the festival was incredible and the music at the 2002 event was the best ever.
I sat back and wondered if the city will evolve into one of the communities reporters and tourists will look back on in 50 years and comment: "I remember Helper before it was famous. I remember Helper when it was just another of Utah's old towns that we thought would dry up and disappear."
Creating niche communities is not an easy chore to accomplish.
The process takes a lot of time and effort, but it does happen. And when it happens, the town or city will never be the same.
Do we have what it takes in Carbon County to create such a place?