My awesome husband Tony and I have been asked a lot lately why we decided to open not one, but two stores… in “dead” downtown Chambersburg, PA of all places. This question is typically posed by people who haven’t been downtown in over 10 years and who still hold the opinion that nobody in their right mind would ever want to open a new business in our downtown area. And the fact is, I personally have always hated downtowns. The one-way streets, the parking, the lack of good restaurants… I was someone who complained any time a business event forced me to venture into the downtown… of any town I’ve ever lived in.
One fundamental thing changed in my life that made me embrace our own downtown area. It wasn’t that I discovered a love of parallel parking I never knew I had (yes, that was sarcasm). It wasn’t the fascination I have for the beautiful alleyways and seating areas that grace the spaces between downtown buildings. The fundamental change was… ME. I decided I’d had enough moaning and complaining from myself that there’s “nothing to do” in Chambersburg or that downtown has a stigma of being run down and unsafe. In fact, I decided that unless I tried to do something about it, I gave up my right to complain. I made a choice to change my perspective. And in that choice, I embraced the power to help bring the change.
Tony and I spend a lot of time brainstorming how we can make our town better. In fact, we spent our first wedding anniversary taking photos of various areas downtown and studying other nearby downtowns; even interviewing people to ask them what they loved about their downtown areas. We frequently brainstorm ideas for our existing businesses, new businesses we want to open, thoughts for committees we’re involved in, and even huge projects beyond our current means that we’d love to see come to fruition in our town. And beyond brainstorming, we’ve decided to do something about it. We’ve joined the committees. We’ve opened two stores. And we’ve decided that unless we’re willing to DO something about the “lack” of what our town has to offer, we give up our right to complain about the way things currently are.
The fact is, there have been some awesome people working extremely hard for years, against the grain of naysayers and has-beens who either want things to stay the way they “always have been” or aren’t willing to do what it takes to secure the money for massive, necessary change. And even swimming upstream in this raging river of negativity, they’ve made progress. Some may perceive this progress as small, yet without it, we wouldn’t have such an amazing foundation prepared for growth. As even more forward-thinking people with vision buy up the buildings, renovate and encourage business owners like ourselves to invest in the future of the town, the foundation they have painstakingly laid over the last several years has become the solid, stable ground for those of us with vision to build upon.
The purest definition of insanity is to do things the same way and expect a different result. And this is what the “naysayers” and “has-beens” have been doing. The same thing… Yet in the next breath they complain that “downtown is dead” or “downtown has nothing to offer.” I would love the chance to take one of these people by the hand and escort them around the town I have adopted as my own, and show them not only what has already been accomplished, but help them envision the amazingly bright future I know our town can have.
I think differently in part because I’m not from around here. In fact, I’m not really from anywhere. I’ve never had a home town, so I don’t have any frame of reference for what a downtown should be like. And sure, I may get flack for that. Yet it also means I don’t know how, nor do I bother, to necessarily play by “the rules.” In many cases, I don’t even know what the rules are. What I do know is, I chose to be here. And I choose to invest my time, money and energy into helping make downtown Chambersburg the incredible experience I know it can be. I choose to call Chambersburg, a tiny little town in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania, HOME. And because of that choice, I take ownership of the power I personally hold to help change the way others may perceive downtown to be. And because my husband, I, and several of our business friends are taking massive action toward positive growth, I personally will not allow those who refuse to take any action the right to complain about it in front of me.
A long time ago Tony and I discovered the secret to creating what we want. And that was the realization that in any situation, we have the choice to complain about the way things are and the problems we see or be a part of the solution. CHOICE is such a powerful thing! We’ve chosen to be a part of the solution. In my opinion, until the complainers are willing to get off their “better-than-thou” horses and put their time, energy, and money where their mouths are to make this potentially amazing little town a must-stop-at destination, they hold no rights to complain about the way things are or the people they think “should” be doing something. It could be as simple as supporting downtown shop owners or as complex as buying and renovating a building. It’s all about making the CHOICE.
It’s time for those with vision to take a stand for our town. It’s time for us to band together and not only see the potential, but also do everything in our power to make that potential a reality. Will it take time? Yes. Will it take money? For sure. Resources? Absolutely. Tenacity? Yep. Change? YES. My question to those in resistance is, has there been anything worthwhile in your life that did not take any time, money, resources, tenacity, or require change? I bet the answer to that is, “No.”
It’s time for our community to get off their complaints and do something. Get involved. Join with those of us who believe in downtown. Attend the events put on by our awesome Downtown Business Council. (There are a lot of them and they are tons of fun!) Support your local shops… DOWNTOWN. Take a walk around the square and appreciate the beauty of the fountain and the relaxation of the benches in front of the historic courthouse. Check out the town’s fascinating history at the Heritage Center. Get an amazingly tasty crepe at Brussel’s Cafe. Stop in for a new-to-you read at Northwood Books. Appreciate the murals and artwork created by talented local artists scattered around various building walls. Grab a cup of coffee at C&C. Head to the Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning and get your fresh veggies for the week (and kombucha from UnDone!). Stop by Olympia Candy Kitchen and pick up some chocolate for that special someone (or yourself). Grab unique gifts for an amazing woman in your life at The Gift Enclosure or celebrate that meaningful occasion with something that sparkles from Ludwig’s or Gartenberg Jewelry. Check out the unusual and creative art at The Foundry and The Garage. Dress yourself for success with tailored apparel from Lyons & Company or a complete ensemble at Here’s Looking at You. Put on the finishing touches with Merle Norman Cosmetics. See a show at Capital Theatre. Get medicinal teas for what ails you from Gardens by Grace. Pick up that last-minute birthday gift for that one-of-a-kind kiddo at Toy Box Gifts & Wonder. Try a tasty stuffed avocado at Square1. Stop by Gypsie for something never before seen and surprise the person who “has everything.” Take a selfie in front of the Stargate or Hogwarts inside Nerdvana Outpost. Grab dinner at Bistro 71 or check out a new restaurant further down Main St. Downtown has so much to offer… when was the last time you ventured on an adventure of discovery?
Because we downtown merchants are banding together, doing something, taking action to make our town a fun, safe place to hang out, shop, and eat. And if you’re sick of complaining about how things “have been” and are ready to join forces with those who are working hard to make the town awesome, take a risk and jump into a committee… get involved… open a restaurant or store of your own. Buy a building, renovate it, and create something amazing. If I’ve learned anything in my dozen+ years of successful business, I’ve learned that with great risk comes great reward. And only by putting a STOP to the complaining and taking action can positive change actually occur.
I’m the outsider. And I’m called to be a catalyst… one, I hope, of many. We are the ones to light the passionate fire of change. The ones to bring influencers together to create something awesome, instead of settling for how things have been with struggling to “just get by.” It’s time for a powerful, blazing mindset shift. It’s time to see the beauty that is our town, to embrace it and all its potential, and to empower it to become something amazing. This town has been rebuilt from ashes twice. It’s time to make that extensive amount of work worth the vision of those whose blood, sweat, and tears rebuilt it! Not just for your kids or grandkids, but also for YOU. I implore you to give up your “right” to complain and come be a part of the solution!
P.S. If you’re not located in or near Chambersburg, what can you do to be a part of the solution for your town?