MONTROSE – Wade Nichols, the Montrose Downtown Development Authority’s new executive director, has been on the job for a little more than three weeks. From what he’s seen so far, he likes the energy and direction in Montrose’s downtown business district and is eager to lead it to greater success.
Originally from Mount Airy, N.C., the home of Andy Griffith and one of the original models for Mayberry, Nichols comes to the Montrose DDA with more than 25 years of business development and marketing experience, including seven years of work leading downtown organizations throughout North Carolina. Nichols was selected by the Montrose DDA Board of Directors from an initial list of 38 candidates applying for the position and hired him for his past experience with national Main Street programs. He officially started on Nov. 21.
“So far, I am impressed with the businesses that are here,” Nichols said. “They touch on some pretty good and important market segments. I think we can broaden the scope a little bit and bring in some more experience-based operations as well as more retail merchants and restaurants.”
Nichols earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University prior to living in Cambridge, Mass. for 15 years where he worked in public relations and marketing for the travel industry. After moving back into his home state of North Carolina and working with heritage and tourism development, he began work with the main street program in Lexington, North Carolina.
“We had twenty-three barbecue joints in town,” Nichols said. “There was an ongoing bet as to whether or not the next restaurant opening would actually not be a barbecue joint. Eventually we used barbecue and pigs as part of the public art campaign to increase traffic volume on the streets.”
After his work in Lexington, Nichols received the opportunity to work in Shelby, N.C.’s main street program, which was one of the first main street programs to be organized in the country.
“It’s a really successful old time main street program that had done some restoration and redevelopment,” he said. “We were able to bring the district back while I was there and changed the vacancy rates substantially. We were also able to bring in a lot of younger businesses and young people to start those businesses.”
Nichols said both Lexington and Shelby were in situations where the local industries they’d been built upon (furniture and textiles) had been dislocated and that they had to search for new sources of economy and new identities.”
While Montrose is similar in size to those two North Carolina cities, Nichols said Montrose finds itself in a very different situation as the DDA’s main street program is newer and while there are economic challenges in Montrose there is no crisis.
“I am hoping to help the local businesses here and the Main Street method is all about pulling people together from all parts of the community,” Nichols said. “I am hoping to get people working together on a few projects and some special events. Hopefully we can create an atmosphere where there is a buzz in the community that something is going on and it’s not to be missed.”
It is the mission of the DDA to establish Downtown Montrose as a strong business, social, and cultural center for the success of downtown business and property owners through a combination of business development, physical improvements, promotion, and creating a unified voice for downtown. Nichols said that Montrose already has a lot going for it, citing the Montrose Public Art eXperience and the city’s 2013 All America City award.
“I’m not suggesting that nobody knows about the public art in Montrose but I think it can be marketed more aggressively,” Nichols said. “It’s quite significant for a town this size to have this good of an art program. I was really excited to see that. Another thing I really want us to promote aggressively is the All America cities program. It’s such a great milestone.”
Along with helping to foster more cooperation between businesses and stakeholders in Downtown Montrose to work toward a greater good, Nichols said he’s also available to provide prospective business owners with tools they need to become stronger.
“Sometimes people have the energy and the desire to start a new business but sometimes they don’t create a good business plan,” he said. “I am all about helping write those business plans so they can get a good solid base for the future. We can also help them get access to capital, information and expertise.”
Over the last few weeks, Nichols has talked to a lot of business owners and community leaders in Montrose and he said a lot of them are tired of worrying about the sluggish economy. A few of those told him they decided to worry about something else, to change their attitude. When they did, they saw a positive impact on their business. Nichols believes that can be true for the entire business community.
“I think communities are now at a point of either turning a corner because things are significantly better or they are tired of the same old issue and are looking for something new to throw at the challenge. I think that’s great. It’s all about attitude.”
For more information on DDA, visit montrosedowntown.com.