McGregor receives positive feedback from downtown exchange

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McGregor paired up with Edgewood to participate in the Iowa Economic Development Authority’s Downtown Exchange program. Feedback was positive, with visitors particularly enjoying the community’s historic appearance. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

“Attractive and historic.” “Streetscape was lively and pleasing.” “Very friendly.” These were just a smattering of the comments six visitors from Edgewood made when they came to McGregor in August as part of the Iowa Economic Development Authority’s Downtown Exchange program. 

“There was a lot of positive feedback,” noted McGregor’s deputy clerk and economic development lead, Duane Boelman. 

City officials, business owners and residents, he added, “can get tunnel vision, where we see the same things—bad and good things—all the time. So it’s good to see what it looks like to visitors. They see things we wouldn’t.” 

Boelman said McGregor applied to the program and was paired with Edgewood, another participant that was similar in size and located nearby. Individuals from both communities secretly visited the other in late summer, walking around, viewing both residential and commercial districts and going into shops and restaurants. Each person then filled out a survey that evaluated aspects like signage, town branding, street condition, building/storefront appearance, walkability, parking, friendliness and customer service. 

In reviewing the results, Boelman said many of the Edgewood visitors were pleased to see how good McGregor looked following last year’s tornado. 

“They expected it to be more battle scarred,” he remarked. 

The aspect the group liked the most was the town’s appearance, particularly the historic buildings. 

One participant wrote, “McGregor did not disappoint with its antique charm.” 

They said the buildings were well-cared-for, both at ground level and upper stories, and had quaint architectural features. Many had attractive window displays, awnings and balconies. 

When asked if McGregor had “an obvious branding or comprehensive marketing effort for the downtown,” every person said “yes,” identifying history as the brand. 

“The same thing struck everyone,” Boelman quipped. 

Interestingly, he said this “brand” wasn’t necessarily intentional: “It happened organically.” 

Other positive points the Edgewood visitors mentioned were McGregor’s proximity to the Mississippi River, nice residential areas with beautiful older homes, well-kept streets and high walkability. They liked the railings that run along the sidewalks, stating that they bring continuity to the community. 

McGregor was bustling and there was a variety of goods and services, the visitors added. 

“And they’re very interested in coming back and exploring our nightlife,” Boelman said. “Sometimes we forget that there’s quite a bit of after-hours activity, with live music, bars and places to eat.” 

The survey results noted that McGregor-Marquette Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kristie Austin was welcoming and helpful, as were the city’s business owners. 

“They said people were friendly,” Boelman shared, “and the shop owners were very much able to recommend other places for them to visit. They do a good job of promoting each other’s businesses.” 

There are a few areas in which McGregor can improve. The visitors said there were weeds springing up from some of the sidewalks. Some vacant buildings could use more upkeep, or even signage in the windows explaining potential ownership or business opportunities. They felt the city could use more stores geared to men or businesses that capitalize on the river. 

Boelman said the visitors also felt a grocery store and a place to buy beer were missing. They wanted better signage directing them toward the public restrooms and even the river. 

He felt the latter is something McGregor could easily do, and added putting signage on the riverfront that directed people toward attractions or businesses in town would also be a good idea. 

If people come in off the river, “some don’t get farther than Kwik Star,” Boelman commented. 

As far as groceries and beer are concerned, Boelman said those things can be easily purchased at Kwik Star or By the Spoonful. 

“I felt the things they were missing are actually here; we just need to do a better job of showing them,” he said. “It’s more about awareness.” 

Overall, Boelman said he was happy with the experience. Many business owners attended a meeting where the results were revealed, hearing first-hand what the visitors thought. Getting that positive feedback in their hands was the most important thing. 

“This will be beneficial for the business owners downtown,” he said.

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