The story of how Hudson, Massachusetts won a national contest is a tale of many small businesses working together. How did they do it? This may be the most valuable information that a small business owner can use.
We’re going to take you through the process step by step, but first, a little background.
Winning the 2021 America’s Main Streets “Road to Recovery” Contest
Independent We Stand is pleased to recognize Hudson, Mass. as the $25,000 winner of the 2021 America’s Main Streets “Road to Recovery” contest. More than 1 million total votes were cast by the public nationwide in the sixth annual contest.
The Hudson Downtown Business Improvement District rallied its vast network of 85 property owners, partners at the Hudson Business Association and the Assabet Valley Chamber of Commerce, and their community to vote in support of its entry. The organization plans to utilize the prize money to enhance culture and the arts.
How Can Your Town Replicate Hudson’s Success?
About a dozen years ago, the vacancy rate on Hudson’s Main Street was 20%. Today, Main Street is thriving with lots of pedestrian traffic. People are shopping and eating at the many great shops, and enjoying the restaurants, a brewery, and a micro-creamery.
How did Hudson do it? Did they hire an educated marketer/business expert, and put that person at the helm, nope. They found Richard A. Braga, Hudson Downtown Business Improvement District administrator. Braga didn’t come on board with a business school background or experience. Braga, Hudson’s retired police chief, has a degree in Criminal Justice.
What did he bring to the job? Years of building contacts and connections, and a genuine love of his community. First Braga outlined the early steps Hudson took to revitalize its Main Street area in the following way:
- Business owners got together and formed an association with the specific aim of revitalizing a main street.
- The business owners contacted a local real estate agent and charged that person with represented all the vacant properties on Main Street. The agent was challenged to find tenants to buy or lease each property.
- The business owners launched a Buy Local program.
The next step was to form a Business Improvement District.
“We had some success, getting some spots filled, and we wanted to bring it to the next level,” Braga said. “In November 2017 we formed a Business Improvement District.” At that time, such districts weren’t common, Braga said. Hudson’s was the 8th to form in Massachusetts.
The Business Improvement District is a legal entity, which has to meet two criteria: First, 60% of all property owners must agree to join it. And second, that 60% must represent 51% or more of the valued property in the district. And once the district was established, the business owners approached Braga.
“When they said they’d like me to be the director, I told them that I know nothing about this,” Braga recalled. “I’ve had a blast, just seeing what we can do.”
How the Business Improvement District Raises Money
Braga explained that the Biz Improvement District “cuts through the red tape” as such districts are self-established and run organizations. (He added that each state may have its own laws as to how such a district can be organized and managed).
Here’s how they did it in Hudson, starting with raising money for improvements.
“Property owners agreed to self tax themselves, paying a percentage of their assessed value,” Braga said. “The monies are collected by the town, and the town forwards the money back to the Business Improvement District.”
A board of directors makes the decisions on how the money should be spent. In Hudson, monies went to improvements to the Main Street area such as widening the sidewalks to enhance capabilities for outdoor dining (this was pre-pandemic). Additional beautification projects included updating the street lights to a globe-style, stylish light, and adding benches. They were also able to establish the Business Improvement District as a 501c3, able to receive donations, which are tax-deductible.
The next step is key to any business district, parking. And they addressed this issue by mapping parking locations. “There was plenty of parking, but people weren’t aware of locations,” Braga said. “Everybody wants to park right in front of a business, but you just don’t get that lucky – you have to walk a little bit.”
Braga said that Hudson’s Main Street visitor demographic is 25 to 50-year-olds, creating pedestrian traffic.
Involve Business District Owners in Search for Tenants
“We put messages on social media about business locations that were open, ready for new tenants or owners,” Braga said. “We got much more feedback than we expected – each time we listed something, we got a dozen inquiries.”
“We were building a good foundation downtown, and people began to see it as a good place to locate,” he added. “They see it as a good opportunity.”
The Business Improvement District has lots of projects and lots of committees. So does the Hudson Business Association and the Assabet Valley Chamber of Commerce, Braga said.
“The secret to our success is that we work great with each other and with the town,” Braga said. “We have a seat at their table and they have a seat at ours.”
When COVID Hit
The Business Improvement District used some of the monies it had raised to hire a certified public accountant. The accountant helped businesses with the PPP application process and the forgiveness application.
“That was daunting for a lot of business owners,” Braga said. “Out of our 105 businesses, more than 70 took advantage of that service, which we provided for free to them.”
“We did lose some businesses but we were also didn’t stop attracting new businesses,” he added. “At the end of the day, we are in better shape now than we were on 3/20/20.”
This article, “How Your Town Can Copy Hudson’s Success” was first published on Small Business Trends