A mainstay of the lakefront city, Main Street Vermilion continues to advocate and be a voice for the business community, enhancing opportunities for entrepreneurs setting up shop and lauding the efforts of entrepreneurs in being creative through the novel coronavirus pandemic.
A part of the national Main Street movement, the organization is helping local businesses weather the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Executive Director Marilou Suszko said small businesses need the support of the community, and she encourages people to keep patronizing them.
Suszko noted despite the challenges of COVID-19 downtown Vermilion has not seen any businesses shut their doors. Businesses have shown resilience and creativity in finding new ways to reach their customers, she said.
“What I notice about Vermilion businesses in particular that they’re pretty resilient. They are creative, and they’re moving forward. None of this is easy to do during this time, but they are. A lot of them have risen to the challenges that COVID has presented, and one is finding new ways to market their products,” she said.
A number of small businesses have used the opportunity to harness their online space in creating websites and increasing their presence on social media, creating a new selling opportunity.
Vermilion businesses, Suszko said, are fortunate to be well supported by the community with a core customer base, and social media has enabled them to stay connected and opened up a path to be discovered by new audiences.
However, a lot of what makes Vermilion special is the in-person experience from shop owners and Suszko wants people to come back to Vermilion as soon as possible and experience the sights and sounds of downtown Vermilion.
“They can offer you an experience, or a visit to Vermilion itself can offer you an experience. You can’t get that off of the website,” Suszko said. “To come into their stores to meet the owners to actually look at the products that they have, understand who they are and just get the kind of customer service that you can’t necessarily get online.”
While online customer is good, it isn’t the same as the warm feeling of getting to meet small owners and experience their passions for the products and services they offer, she said.
As Main Street Vermilion looks forward in 2021 it hopes to build on the city’s winter identity. Long known as a summer lakeside destination, Suszko hopes to get more people to embrace winter and harness the city’s winter culture.
With the support of Mayor Jim Forthofer, Vermilion will leave its Christmas lights on for the next couple of months.
“This is what happens in a lot of small towns right after Christmas. The idea is stores close down because they think that the people aren’t there, they think that the towns kind of close up. And the reality is we don’t,” she added. “We are still here. And we need to start doing things that embrace the winter. We need to start talking about it differently, rather than it being an inconvenience. How is it an asset to our, our community?”
Ice-A-Fair, the annual winter classic that typically takes place in early February was put on hold until 2022 due to the pandemic. The event covers downtown Vermilion with more than 60 ice sculptures and ends with the “Fire and Ice.”
In the meantime, Main Street Vermilion is aiming to embrace the beauty of winter in looking at potential popup events and incorporating more outdoor dining options despite the cooler temperatures. While people may not necessarily have an entire meal outdoors, she said, perhaps soup, hot chocolate, a beer or a glass of wine all while experiencing the magic of winter sunsets on Lake Erie.
The organization is creating a schedule consistent with COVID-19 restrictions and Suszko emphasized they will place the safety of the community at the forefront with any events decided on an individual basis.
The All Washed Up driftwood art exhibit is scheduled for July 17 at Exchange Park with more details to come.