There are some obvious differences between the southeast portion of Republic Road and places like downtown Springfield and Commercial Street.
While the latter have numerous distinct historic buildings, for instance, Republic Road features numerous strip malls that look like … well, like other strip malls. While the latter are compact and walkable, Republic Road is a two-to-five lane thoroughfare that was built to serve the automobile.
Two Republic Road business owners, however, think they can give the route an identity — and a following — on par with the city’s most well-known business districts.
“We kind of have that same vision,” said State Farm Insurance Agent Joe Robles. “We have a good area like downtown.”
Robles and Jennifer Choi, the owner of Rose Diamonds, founded Right on Republic in spring 2012 with the goal of promoting the area they’ve taken to calling “The Heartbeat of the Southside.” This year, the two hope more business owners along the road will assist them in their four-pronged approach to nurture an unique identity by focusing on district loyalty, joint marketing, cross-promotion and joint events.
“Our idea is to create an avenue, consolidate marketing dollars, create an image for this road — so it’s not just the way to the mall,” Robles said in his office at 1329 E. Republic Road on Thursday.
For now, the two are concentrating on the approximately 2.5-mile stretch between Glenstone and Campbell Avenues — and hoping to build on the draw of the Farmers Market of the Ozarks, which last weekend attracted thousands of people to its new pavilion just off Republic Road.
“We know that’s going to be two days a week of activity,” Robles said.
Robles has worked on the street for 26 years. Back then, there was farmland along the road; today, the stretch has such a high concentration of businesses that there are eight hair salons.
“We just have a lot of opportunity because there’s so much diversity in this area,” Choi said.
The two estimate that 25,000 people live within five minutes driving distance of the stretch and say the businesses can meet many of their needs and play into the increasing desire to shop local. They’ve set up a Facebook page and website, RightOnRepublic .com, with information about area businesses, many of which don’t have their own individual online presences. And they’ve been in contact with staff at the Urban Districts Alliance, which promotes downtown and Commercial Street.
In coming months, the two hope to have area business owners go in together for direct-mail and other advertising, and to distribute window stickers to raise awareness of the new branding. A planned holiday open house is in the works for the end of the year, Choi said, and other events are possible.
“We’re really starting to put the wheels in motion,” she said.
The two say local business owners have been receptive to proposals so far, and Robles and Choi are open to suggestions and comments. In attention to attracting more shoppers, the two hope to build a network that will come in handy if business owners want to get word out about crime or the planned widening of Republic Road.
In addition to the aforementioned differences, Commercial Street and downtown Springfield are also Community Improvement Districts — a designation that allows the implementation of a special sales tax to finance improvements. Right on Republic is just a grassroots effort at this point.
But Choi says the differences between Republic Road and its model area bring their own set of advantages. The occasional sidewalk sales held by businesses along the road could be coordinated to attract a bigger crowd. The ample lots along Republic Road would be great for a gathering of food trucks and vendors, for example.
“We’re really trying to create more interest in the area — for us, by us.”