Welcome to Downtown Park Rapids: Experience a Main Street like no other all year long
The past decade has delivered many challenges and changes to Downtown Park Rapids.
In 2005, some changes were already scripted: Walmart was going to open in 2007, plans were laid for a two-year Highway 34 expansion project starting in 2007 and the city was preparing to replace the infrastructure on South Main.
Understanding that Downtown was at a crossroads, some retailers chose to be proactive and organized a Park Rapids Downtown Business Group (later Association). The group’s mission was to preserve Main Street as the heart of the town’s historic, business and community life and promote economic and business opportunities.
In a newspaper interview, President Peter McEwen, owner of Third Street Market at the time, predicted, “What we will look like will be defined in the next two years. …We will have to do what we do better than we ever have before.” The key, he said, would be marketing downtown as a destination.
In addition to the physical changes the decade brought, retailers were also seeing a shift in demographics. The number of resorts and their guests, who stayed for a week and made a visit downtown part of their vacation experience, was declining. Seasonal property owners with different shopping habits had begun taking their place. What almost no one saw coming was the even greater challenge of the economic downturn that started in 2008 and lingers even today.
The Park Rapids Downtown Business Association (PRDBA) doubled down. They took experts’ advice and met the challenge of a new “big box” store with group marketing, a greater selection of goods and service with a smile. They sustained efforts to beautify the Highway 34 corridor and welcomed the improved traffic flow. And they made lemonade from lemons during Main Street reconstruction, organizing pre-construction, construction and grand reopening events and activities. A webcam on Main Street gave anyone with a computer the chance to watch progress. Participation in planning brought a transformation to the legendary wide street and downtown sidewalks.
In 2014, the PRDBA membership included 110-plus businesses and friends. Efforts to market downtown as a destination include a website with the downtown webcam and four others, a popular Destination Guide, crazier Crazy Days with a Downtown Dash and 5K, the upcoming 5th Annual Bite of Park Rapids Food & Art Fair and 10 nights of 2nd Street Stage.
The PRDBA’s mission has evolved only slightly. It is to promote the long-term strength and economic growth of retail businesses in the downtown area. Change is inevitable, but with a decade of experience in its rear view mirror, the PRDBA will find new ways to embrace what’s next.