Downtown Grows Its Own Businesses

When the tobacco industry left Danville, VA, decades ago, it left the downtown with massive inventory of vacant space.

There was no easy solution, Danville lacked the population and wealth to attract national retailers. The city also lacked a core of local merchants. “There was a lot of infrastructure, but really not a robust business community downtown,” says Diana Schwartz, executive director of Danville’s River District Association.

So the association set out to grow its own pipeline of tenants. Aiming to train a new generation of downtown business owners, the association’s Dream Launch program began offering training and mentoring to budding entrepreneurs.

Start-up merchants who want to open physical locations in the River District can participate in Entrepreneur Boot Camp, a six-week program that starts each January and teaches business skills.

Participants who complete the initial training can then compete for cash and other prizes through a pitch competition. The most viable concepts get ongoing support from the River District Association.

Since 2018, the program has provided free start-up training to more than 465 participants, 200 of whom completed all six bootcamp classes. The initiative has also distributed $375,000 in grants to new businesses.

More on downtown Danville’s turnaround appears in the May issue of Downtown Idea Exchange newsletter. Click to learn more about Downtown Idea Exchange

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