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Keeping our small town charm

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What is small town charm? Most often when the phrase small town charm is used, there is an insinuation that the charm comes from the relaxed, genuine nature of small towns, as well as the fact that small towns can be cute or quirky in a way that big cities can’t. It’s the easygoing conversation you can have with the owners over a pizza at Roma Italian Restaurant. It’s the cute dance shoe-decorating contest displayed in the window at On Your Toes Performance Wear. It’s the quirky nature mural with frolicking cats painted on the side of The Country Framer, reflecting the owners’ love for cats. That is the small town charm I think of Durant, Oklahoma possessing.

As many are now aware, our town was recently selected to advance to the Top 10 Towns competing for a $500,000 Main Street Makeover on The Small Business Revolution television show. Durant has advanced all the way to the top ten finalists from the 12,000 nominations the show received in October. If Durant wins the overall competition in February, the producers of the show would select six small businesses to give a makeover, as well as our historic downtown during Season 4 of the show. These makeovers would not only make physical improvements to the buildings by Ty Pennington, but equally importantly, will provide much needed business and marketing advice from Amanda Brinkman and her Deluxe Corporation team to ensure these local merchants are turning a profit so they can continue to be sustainable assets in our community.

We are now preparing for the makeover team and film crew to visit Durant on January 15 and 16 to tour our small town in person. They want to hear the stories of our small business owners from their very own mouths and determine the opportunities available for their expert team to transform into success stories. They want to experience the small town charm and heartwarming stories of our community that caught their attention in the first place.

Durant has been flooded with positive comments and congratulations from well-wishers as we move to the next phase of The Small Business Revolution competition. Those words of encouragement are so greatly appreciated. However, there are always a few skeptics. One statement that particularly resonated with me on social media is that “Winning the competition and a $500,000 makeover is the best way to lose Durant’s small town charm.” I beg to differ and I’m sure our small business owners do, too. The types of businesses mentioned at the beginning of this column are the very fabric of what gives Durant our small town charm. A shop owner who knows your spouse’s name and can choose the perfect gift for them, an antique dealer that buys a special piece on their latest road trip because they know it would look perfect in your living room, or the restaurant owner who can cook “the usual” because they know your favorite meal, those are what make Durant special. You know what isn’t charming? Those small businesses going out of business.

Business failure is a reality that small business owners are faced with every single day. How are our sales this month? Can I make payroll? I won’t pay myself this month so my employees can get paid or we can order more inventory. The mom and pop shops and restaurants that make Durant so charming can’t survive like a façade in a Hallmark movie town. They need customers, like you and I, consistently spending money in their stores and making every effort to invest our hard earned money back into our own community by shopping local. The type of permanent improvements and business guidance provided to the town who is lucky enough to win The Small Business Revolution would be a dream come true for struggling business owners. Let’s continue joining to together to rally behind Durant to win this competition because when local businesses win, we all win!

Stephanie Gardner is executive director of the Durant Main Street office in Durant and a small business owner.

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