Several weeks ago I was part of a discussion about how to raise the profile of downtown Burlington. We talked about spreading word around the Triad region. We talked about getting the message outside the city limits into neighboring cities and towns a well as Alamance County. But we kept coming back to one nagging matter. Even people who work downtown don’t always know what’s going on just a block or two away.
it’s easy to see the problem. It’s hard for businesses downtown to gain a foothold if folks nearby don’t even know those businesses exist or what they offer — food, drink, retail, services or all of the above. So in a meeting of the Burlington Downtown Corporation‘s Promotions Committee we started to explore ideas to get people outside of their workplaces during the daytime to gather, meet each other and get familiarized with neighboring businesses.
The downtown’s more successful events occur at night or on weekends, but that misses a large amount of potential customers who leave the area when the workday is done. In talking to Sara Beth Hardy, director of operations and communications for the BDC, we estimate that probably more than 2,000 people work downtown daily, including 500 at LabCorp. It’s a formidable group of people that includes most of the city of Burlington’s staff, City Hall, police, fire and recreation and parks departments; May Memorial Library; the Chamber of Commerce; Alamance Tourism; the U.S. Postal Service; multiple churches; Impact Alamance; the United Way; and the Times-News. That’s not including all of the retail, restaurant, arts and other establishments.
How to encourage people from all of those varied workplaces to gather every so often sounded like a great idea, but also a challenge. One idea involved something that was already in place called the “Merchants Mingle.” it was a small morning meetup of mostly businesses hoping to lure customers to their establishments or discuss downtown for downtown merchants. We took that small meeting and combined it with a tradition already in place at nearby Elon University. Decades ago Elon created a weekly gathering called “College Coffee.” It’s a time on Tuesday morning when students, faculty and staff join at a place on campus for coffee and usually a pastry or bagel. For the past few years College Coffee has been held at the Phi Beta Kappa Commons on campus. Campus organizations set up tables to promote their programs and events to people drawn by free coffee and doughnuts.
What if, we wondered, the same kind of event could be created for downtown Burlington one morning each month. It would be open and available to anyone downtown who wants to take a morning break from work for coffee and a doughnut. While they do, people can meet their neighbors and learn more about places to visit downtown. Maybe even make new friends or find places to eat or shop. Downtown has also started to host more and varied events that more people should know about.
From that idea, First Tuesday Downtown Coffee Talk was born. The first, First Tuesday will take place from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, May 7 at the Depot at South Main and Front Streets in Burlington. Coffee and doughnuts courtesy of the Burlington Downtown Corporation will be available but supplies may be limited. After all, the BDC has no idea how many people will take advantage of this opportunity and no one wants a heap of leftover doughnuts. “We’ll see what happens with this first time,” Hardy told the promotions committee on Wednesday.
First Tuesday Downtown Coffee Talk (or just First Tuesday) should have great momentum already. It has the blessing and cooperation of LabCorp, the largest downtown employer. The world giant in laboratory testing has its corporate headquarters downtown and occupies other buildings there. Mayor Ian Baltutis and the BDC worked with LabCorp to hold First Tuesday during a time when its associates are already taking morning break. The 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. window should allow for enough time for all downtown workers to take a quick walk to the Depot for coffee and conversation. Should the event become a big success, LabCorp might be a potential partner in supplying coffee and pastries every so often.
it’s my hope that not only LabCorp employees stop for coffee in the Depot courtyard (by the statue) but that all who work downtown find the time for a quick break for coffee and to meet their neighbors and learn more about what businesses are located around the downtown or what events of interest might be coming up. There might even be a business card drawing or two.
Please feel free to spread the word. And if you can’t make it on May 7, try again on June 4. The schedule for the rest of 2019 is in the graphic above. Here’s a link to the Facebook event page.
See ya there.