By Lori Roach
In December 2019 The Dalles was one of two Oregon cities that made the top 10 list on the Deluxe Small Business Revolution original series, a competition that is won by the number of votes received. Citizens of The Dalles had no idea what would transpire over the next month or so as they welcomed the year 2020 with a determination to become the number one pick for season five of the Small Business Revolution.
On January 14th The Dalles had made it into the top five. Along the way, according to Deluxe, they learned that nowhere are small businesses more under siege than in small towns. They created the Small Business Revolution to help those small businesses, and in turn, those small towns, reignite the spark that drives them and keeps people coming back. Each season, Deluxe searches for one lucky town – and six of its small businesses – to win a $500,000 boost from Deluxe, and document the transformations in an original series. Season 1 featured Wabash, Indiana; Season 2 – Bristol Borough, Pennsylvania; Season 3 – Alton, Illinois; and Season 4 – Searcy, Arkansas; and Season 5 will feature Fredonia, New York….not The Dalles, Oregon. “This experience, in which we all pitched in together, most definitely grew community awareness about how well we can all work together, at the drop of a hat, said Don Warren, President of The Dalles Downtown Association. “It was less than two months from start to finish. And people loved it. Everyone was excited. And they still are.
Sure it was briefly disappointing to be announced 2nd choice. But, in the Civic that night people sighed for a half second. Then the crowd went wild spontaneously, because they all knew and now the whole community knows that we can do anything we put our minds to. We have tons of momentum now and the entire community is ready to pitch in on projects large and small.”
“We did great in the Small Business Revolution adventure. We came together and proved we work together well,” said Warren. “Community spirits are high even though we did not win the Small Business Revolution.
Thousands of people are now primed to help on projects across town, numerous non-profits and government organizations are planning projects together; This is a great town primed for shared adventure as we make our town more beautiful and attractive for ourselves and our visitors.”
Businesses across The Dalles began pitching in to promote the city through social media, word-of-mouth, print advertising, and basically any other mode of marketing that could be thought of was used. This included the local billboard company, Meadow Outdoor Advertising, placing billboards along I-84 urging people to vote for The Dalles.
Local photographer, Angela Pollard and The Workshop owner, Linsey Giamei, collaborated on a marketing idea that took off like a wild fire, only with much more positive results.
“We wanted to find a way to get the community involved,” said Giamei, “so we kicked off a photo contest with #thedalles signs and gave them out for free. We handed out over 200 of the #thedalles signs to the community and loved seeing them take the lead in showcasing what they loved about this town. We saw so many pictures come in that we couldn’t narrow it down to just one, we ended up picking three winners.
Pollard worked up a simple model release, made an intro brochure to leave behind introducing her services, and started her photography/marketing project at The Workshop.. “I believe I stopped at two more places after that,” said Pollard, “Willow + Bark, and the Chamber of Commerce. Both of those places mentioned how they loved the sign, and wanted one of their own! That is where things started to blow up! I texted Lindsey that day and told her she had people wanting to order those signs, so she quickly started to produce smaller versions of the signs, and gave them away for free.”
By the time all was said and done Pollard had photographed people from approximately 100 businesses and has created a collage poster that are now in different businesses across town.
“She is so incredibly talented and I love how she captured all of those running small businesses around here.” said Giamei, “It’s definitely not the easy path for anyone to take, it takes a lot of grit and determination so seeing those faces I think is so inspiring. I’m so glad she created a poster.
According to Warren, the Small Business Revolution experience made them realize that there are thousands of people in The Dalles that, given an opportunity, want to work together to win together.
“Once we communicated the Small Business Revolution opportunity to the community, the effort took on a life of its own,” said Warren. “We had already developed a strong working partnership with The Dalles Chamber of Commerce. People across the community came together to help get the word out. Organizations across town are reaching out to us and engaging in conversations about how we can identify common interests and projects that we work on together. This will reduce duplication of efforts on separately executed projects. This will also help volunteers be shared across the city for larger support of executing various projects. The Dalles Main Street is proud to have so many eager partners both existing and prospective. The Chamber, MCMC, Next Door, Center for Living, National Neon Sign Museum, City of the Dalles Council and staff, all of the downtown businesses and more.”
“Our community may not have been the winner for the actual contest for Small Business Revolution, but The Dalles came together and won as a Community,” said Lisa F , Executive Director of The Dalles Chamber of Commerce. “Our entire community came together and rallied. We all worked together. We got creative in marketing, and really showed our true spirit of what a small rural town is made of! We are so excited for The Dalles and the work that was begun because of the Small Business Revolution. We can’t wait to see what we do next as a community for #TheDalles.
Now that the Small Business Revolution is behind them there is still much work to be done.
In September 2021, hundreds of old-time sign/mural painters, the Walldogs, will be in town and will work with volunteers to execute 15 new murals throughout downtown and local artists of every age will be able to sign up to help..
“This will increase the recognition that The Dalles is an Art Destination for tourism,” said Warren.
The Dalles Main Street has the ability to help business owners secure funding through grants from numerous sources for signage, façade improvements, external beautification and build outs of living spaces in upper floors.
“We are working with the historic theaters in town, The Civic Auditorium and The Granada, to secure grants from the State of Oregon Historic Theater Grant Program.
We are working with three businesses in historic building to get grants for repairs and updates through other state grant programs,” Warren said.
“Overall, I am just so incredibly excited to see the community rally together and show their pride of The Dalles,” said Giamei. “I think The Dalles has so much incredible momentum building right now and I cannot wait to see what is to come in the next few years.”
Deluxe has been a proud champion of small business since 1915. The company celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2015, creating the Small Business Revolution as a way to celebrate the small businesses that drive our economy and bring our communities together, and create a movement of support. As a leading provider of marketing services and products for small businesses, Deluxe Corporation believes that small businesses are the future of the American economy.