MUSCATINE, Iowa — When she was young, Jaime Weikert participated in a downtown scavenger hunt that paid $100 in gold coins to the winning team.
Weikert — now the advertising manager at the Muscatine Journal and the 2012 president of the Downtown Action Alliance — didn’t win the cash she was chasing.
But, she says, “what I gained that day was worth far more” than the gold she was seeking.
Weikert discovered a love for the people doing business downtown, a love she said she carries today, 15 years later.
About 30 members of the Downtown Action Alliance met Monday evening at the Port City Underground restaurant to hear from the group’s new officers and to brainstorm ways to strengthen their organization and the downtown businesses that comprise the alliance.
“I am astonished at the size of the group,” Mayor DeWayne Hopkins said.
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The mayor said he had two words for the group: Galena, Ill., a town popular with visitors for its handsome historic downtown.
“I go there and think of downtown Muscatine,” Hopkins said. “You cannot deny their success. The stuff they market there, most everything are things you have in your own businesses.”
“Don’t ask why or say that won’t work,” he suggested. “Just say why not? It just takes a little creative thinking.”
Brad Bark, a downtown chiropractor and the alliance’s vice-president, said he grew up in another Mississippi River town — Prairie du Chien, Wis. — where, even as a child, he “knew all the downtown business owners and felt a sense of security,” even when his parents weren’t nearby.
“Muscatine reminds me of home,” a place where people return your friendly greeting, Bark said in explaining why he didn’t locate his chiropractic business on either of the nation’s coasts.
A case in point: during a recent vacation in another city, Bark made it a point to say hello to 250 people he encountered.
Only 20 people said hello back.
“That’s ridiculous,” he said. “You don’t get that here.”
Alliance members divided themselves into four groups to strategize how to strengthen downtown businesses and attractions. Among their ideas:
Holding an annual watermelon-themed event
Trying to land a motorcycle rally
Enticing a men’s clothing store to locate downtown
Enhancing a feeling of safety downtown
Starting a building facade restoration program to entice new businesses downtown
Improving downtown awnings
Creating a historic walking tour with signs — and benches strategically placed for restful moments.