2016 was a year of tremendous challenges for our business community. Due to a large construction project, a major artery into St. Johns was blocked resulting in a diversion that limited access to our downtown core. Effects of the street closure were felt immediately among the small businesses and the St. Johns Boosters worked diligently to help mitigate them by improving communication with developers and the City of Portland, posting signage, launching a website to advertise our local business community and neighborhood events, and fostering a positive atmosphere of support by the neighborhood for our local businesses.
The St. Johns Boosters website went online in January 2016. To date we have had 7,209 site visitors. On our site’s biggest day 171 users saw the website. Our average is about 35 site visitors each day. The site holds 51 pages with 33 that highlight member businesses. Some member businesses do not have a website of their own and their page on the St. Johns Boosters website is their only website. For example, Metamorphic’s online exposure was limited to Facebook. Their page on our site was clicked on eight times in the past month alone by people searching for “metamorphic portland.” Over the past year we also created 20 posts on the website that were shared across Facebook 242 times, creating potentially thousands of impressions. Some of these posts highlighted member businesses. Other posts advertised local events that bring customers into downtown St. Johns.
Throughout 2016 we worked to advertise St. Johns as a great place to shop or enjoy a meal or event. Posts about events included:
- The pdxLOVESSmallbiz campaign in February
- National Shop Small Business week and the 10th Annual St. Johns Bizarre in May
- Children’s Halloween Walk in October
- 7th Annual Night on the Town and Little Boxes in November
- 6th Annual St. Johns Winter Beer Fest in December
While some results are not quantifiable, others are. The 7th Annual Night on the Town saw participation more than double from last year with 277 entries completed. The number of businesses participating also grew from 52 to 76.
2016 also saw our membership explode. We ended 2015 with 5 paid memberships and closed 2016 with 46 total members, most of which joined before the end Q2. There are many benefits to membership. Marketing and social media opportunities afforded by the website, StJohnsBoosters.org, are among them. Each member business may have a page on the site dedicated to their company or professional service. Boosters members also have the opportunity for a professional photographer to photograph their place of business, the business owner, and staff.
Additional benefits of membership include:
- Pride in knowing you are part of the local business community
- Advocacy at the City of Portland through our membership with Venture Portland, the local organization that supports and advocates for the many neighborhood business districts within the City of Portland.
All of these benefits are included in the membership dues.
Land Use Forum
The St Johns Boosters participated in a forum on how to improve the development review process at the City of Portland Bureau of Development Services. Through our work and partnership with Venture Portland the City of Portland is now, for the first time, sending out notices about new development to the business districts as well as the neighborhood associations. This will allow the St. Johns Boosters to monitor proposed changes in the neighborhood and bring up the potential risks or opportunities they present to the business community.
Our recommendations to the City, via the forum, also included adding District Liaison positions to help bridge the gap between citizens (business owners and residents) and the Bureau of Development Services, similar to the positions already in place with the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. This idea will likely need more advocacy to be funded and implemented because it did not make it onto the recommendations for improvements.
Member, Joe Purkey, owner of Convergence Architecture, is our Land Use Coordinator and liaison with the City of Portland.
St. Johns Tree Lighting Campaign
The cost of the holiday tree light campaign was about $5,000. We were able to raise $4,004 to help cover this expense. Funds were donated using various methods including a GoFundMe campaign ($1,375), website donation button using PayPal ($110), a Burgerville fundraiser and donations in cans set at local cash registers throughout St. Johns ($2,519.06).
As a result of the community’s generosity we were able to maintain and repair our 35 lighted trees and light an additional 10 trees this year.
The lighted trees create a holiday ambiance that encourages shoppers to stay in the downtown area after dark. They make the sidewalks and street safer for pedestrian traffic and truly benefit our businesses and property owners.
Networking and Education
The The St. Johns Boosters met each month in 2016, giving members an opportunity to meet other local business owners, enjoy breakfast, and network. Some meetings included an educational component. In January 2016 the Small Business Advocate for the Secretary of State spoke at the Boosters general membership meeting. In March a business attorney, David James Robinson, spoke on new laws for Oregon employees. The April the meeting focused on Crime Prevention. Mark Wells, the City of Portland’s Community Organization Specialist, and Michael Schmerber, Neighborhood Emergency Response Team officer, provided guidelines for crime prevention. This resulted in one block of the downtown core forming a neighborhood business watch. In June an expert from Venture Portland gave a presentation on using social media for branding and business growth. Our own member and website designer, Mary Ann Aschenbrenner from Waterlink Web, gave a presentation on On-Site Search Engine Optimization in July.
Board Membership and Bylaws
Perhaps the best indicator of our success in 2016 is the growth of the St. Johns Boosters volunteer board. At the November elections we added 4 new volunteers. They include:
- Deanna Cantrell, Deanna Cantrell Photography
- Jean Schwartz, Metamorphic
- Risa Davis, Nouveau Realty Group
- Matt Wiederholt, Burgerville
They joined the current board members:
- Mike Johnson, President, St. Johns Ace Hardware
- Nancy Arvesen, Secretary, St. Johns Library
- Charlie Te, Treasurer, Albina Community Bank
- Mary Ann Aschenbrenner, Communications & Technology, Waterlink Web
- Beth Preciso, Business District Relations, The Man’s Shop
- Cristina Marino, Member at Large, Cathedral Park Music
The response of new volunteers to the board was strong enough that Derek Shaw, Past President and owner of The Olive & Vine, felt he was able to step away from board responsibilities after serving for several years. He remains an active member. We thank Derek for his years of service, integrity, and ongoing commitment to the St. Johns business community.
In 2016, with the assistance and input of the Venture Portland staff, the St. Johns Boosters revamped our bylaws. The updated bylaws better define our mission, and improve guidelines for board membership and leadership succession.
Finally, board members participated in leadership trainings offered by Venture Portland and served as volunteers on the Venture Portland Board of Directors.
2017 Course of Action
2016 was an eventful and successful year for the St. Johns Boosters. We want to take advantage of the momentum to continue to grow our organization while fostering business growth in St. Johns. Already this year our Membership Committee and our Board have met twice to strategize on how to incorporate additional membership benefits that will entice new participation.
Commercial Real Estate Page on StJohnsBoosters.org
There are many commercial property owners and managers who could benefit from a listing on the St. Johns Boosters website. Vacant commercial space is an expensive liability and the popularity of the existing website offers an opportunity to market space that is available.
In 2017 the Boosters will actively look for property owners and managers who would like to advertise commercial space available. This marketing opportunity will be available free to members.
Boosters Networking and Business Building Group
Professional services providers, small business owners, and artists can often feel isolated and frustrated while trying to build their networks of clients and customers. This business building group will give participants an opportunity to:
- Set achievable goals
- Practice and refine their elevator speech
- Network with other business owners in St. Johns
- Make presentations to the group before going to clients
- Learn from each other and professional presenters from Venture Portland
The group will meet weekly beginning in 2017 and will be free to Boosters members.
Boosters Quarterly Social
Life’s no fun with all work and no play. Each quarter in 2017 the Boosters will have a chance to socialize at a local restaurant, enjoy some good food, drinks, and a little downtime with other St. Johns’ businesses owners.
Uphill — Downhill: Artists and Makers Event
Building on the Night on the Town success, the Uphill — Downhill event will work to bring the many artists and makers located throughout St. Johns some well-deserved recognition. The “uphill” describes the downtown St. Johns core. The “downhill” describes the area of St. Johns closer to the Willamette River, including Cathedral Park Place.
This event is still in the planning process and may turn into a sort of open-house extending over a weekend or week. The Boosters will reach out to the artists located across St. Johns to develop an event that gives our local artists and makers who are working out of studios an opportunity to market their works to the public.
Remember the “Welcome Wagon?” There is a need in our community to reach out to new residents and introduce business and community services that can meet their needs. This is an ambitious project. In 2017 we will explore how to best fund and produce a Boosters Welcome that markets local businesses and encourages new residents to explore St. Johns.
To kick off 2017 the Boosters will be conducting a membership campaign. We are designing a new flyer that highlights benefits of membership, our 2016 successes, and our 2017 plans. Our Board will be stuffing envelopes and mailing or perhaps walking the flyer along with a membership application to business owners throughout St. Johns.
Many hands make light work. This is the 91st year that the Boosters have supported the St. Johns business community, and it feels like we are only getting started.
Chair, St. Johns Boosters Business Association