Second stroll planned for October
As a part of Marion PRIDE, Jeanice Thomas has studied the information returned from citywide surveys in June.
One major complaint from residents was the empty Duckwalls building on Main Street. However, suggestions for a replacement business were not the advice Thomas was looking for.
“A lot of people want Duckwalls back,” Thomas said. “In all honesty, we’re not going back to the 1950s.”
Thomas has already begun working on a different vision for Marion, an artistic takeover of Marion’s business district that could draw tourists.
She teamed with Gallery 101 owner Jan Davis and Marion County Economic Development Director Teresa Huffman to organize an art and music stroll June 11 in Marion. While Davis worked to pair local artists with businesses, Thomas worked on the publicity for the event. She mailed press releases to major metropolitan newspapers and smaller information to weeklies.
The response was great. On June 11, it rained. People from Wichita called Davis to make sure they were still going to go through with the event.
“If you do it, they will come,” Thomas said.
Davis said the response from the crowd, for the combination of performance pieces — a Mexican dance group, live music — along with Reintarnation at the Central Park gazebo, and traditional artwork was overwhelmingly positive.
Another stroll is planned for Oct. 2.
“Some types of events you can anticipate will draw outside people,” Thomas said. “People love coming to Marion County. It’s about the perfect distance for a day trip.”
Davis said she heard one business owner say, “I’ve never seen that many people downtown on a Sunday.”
Davis said she tried to encourage visitors to stop in every business. Even some Marion residents came away from the event saying they had never been inside some businesses before.
Marion businesses noted this positive response. Some new businesses have signed on for the second event, including Downtown Eatery, Heerey Real Estate, and Aunt Bees. Other businesses have expressed interest.
The plan is for the event to encompass most of Main Street and take all day. To help travelers, and to match the Autumn in the Flint, a covered wagon will be available to shuttle patrons from one end of Main Street to the other. Maps will also be available telling patrons where all the businesses and events are located.
“It’s great that they’re cooperating,” Davis said. “The downtown merchants are really pulling together.”
Davis, Thomas, and Huffman created the art and music stroll based on a similar event in Newton. They are not beyond using trends to their benefit. Thomas said the Flint Hills are a trendy theme.
“We’re going to wear our cowboy hats,” Thomas joked of the Flint Hills ranchland reputation.
But, the art and music strolls are also another step in establishing Marion as an artistic destination. Thomas described Marion as a diverse artistic colony; the two strolls will help that colony set a foundation.
Davis described Spring, Texas, a town north of Houston, as a city that has thrived because the artisans took over. While a complete transformation might not be possible, Davis said Marion could take steps in that direction.
Davis was not yet determined which artists will be paired with each businesses with a few exceptions. Bev Schor at Flint Hills Gold requested that glass blower Grant Charpentier come back; the combination was a perfect symbiotic pairing in June. For the most part, Davis is trying to switch up where artists are featured.
One pairing that she knows of is photographer Ronald Beeton with Heerey Real Estate. The Real Estate office is a good match for Beeton’s large panoramic photographs of the Flint Hills. Real estate agent Lori Heerey wanted to participate in the stroll this time around because it could be a medium to interest prospective home buyers with openings in Marion. With an all-day event, Heerey would have time to show visitors homes.
“Normally it’s just sharing that we do have people that take photos for magazines; I think it is interesting to people,” Heerey said of using the art community as a selling point for Marion.
Before they can convince people, and maybe future artists, to move to Marion, Davis, Thomas, and Huffman want to keep people coming back. They have several events planned through February, including plans for a winter art and music stroll.
“You have to do this for the downtown merchants,” Davis said. “How is Marion going to be on the map if things aren’t happening?”
Heerey echoed those statements as a way to sell homes and bring people to Marion.
“We always love the activity Marion has,” Heerey said. “The more we can get back here the more we can get them here. We’re just planting a seed.”