New initiative Downtown Faces Forward brings awareness, support for downtown businesses in Green Bay and De Pere

The faces behind the storefronts are featured in a social media campaign as COVID-19 forces creativity to drive business, sales and access to local services.

DE PERE, Wis. — Small businesses throughout the downtowns of Wisconsin are doing what they can for a second month amid the “Safer at Home” state order that has shaken their business plans and forced a new way of doing business. In each case, there is a business owner, who despite the odds, continues to face forward.

As a way to celebrate these downtown faces and their businesses, and stimulate further local support, starting in Green Bay and De Pere, a new initiative called Downtown Faces Forward is being launched today.

“Downtown Faces Forward is a creative, forward-facing project that raises awareness and support for downtown small businesses by featuring the people behind the storefronts,” explained Bridget O’Connor, owner and principal of O’Connor Connective. “These downtown small businesses, their owners, and their teams are the ones who fuel the vibrant communities that intertwine with our Broadway and Main streets and avenues, around the bends of the Fox River, and throughout the New North. It’s these faces and their places that make us, us.”

O’Connor and her team at O’Connor Connective, a strategic marketing communications consultancy located in the heart of downtown De Pere, created the concept of Downtown Faces Forward. They partnered with local photographers Mark Hawkins, owner of Mark Hawkins Photography and president of Hands On Deck, and Alexis Arnold, owner of artlessBastard and Alexis Arnold Photography, to feature businesses owners and their fortitude during the COVID-19 challenge.

“We’re showcasing the faces behind our downtown storefronts,” said Hawkins, who photographed business owners in downtown Green Bay. “These are the people who have the stuff it takes to keep things running. They aren’t willing to let a worldwide pandemic keep them from facing forward.”

“I’m one of them,” said Arnold, who focused her camera on the faces of downtown De Pere, where she operates artlessBastard, an art gallery. “This situation has temporarily closed the doors of my gallery, but not my creativity. To have an opportunity to capture the faces of other business owners at a time like this is lifegiving. I’m energized by telling our downtown story.”

Featuring the eclectic mix of offerings in downtowns at a time like this allows for an enhanced opportunity to educate, inform and perhaps entice others to choose local and visit when the time is right again.

“This effort showcases those who have made an investment in our downtowns and provide services that create a vibrant place to live, work, and we hope, soon again, visit,” said Brad Toll, president and CEO of Greater Green Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We love how this campaign allows the world to see the faces and learn the names of those who, despite COVID-19 issues, are forward facing to serve their community, retain their unique businesses, and come out of this stronger, together. They are part of the fabric that makes our community such a special place.”

Beginning the week of April 20, owners of downtown small businesses said “yes” to having their photos taken with appropriate social distancing. More will be captured throughout May. Many say they find participating in this project a way to be a part of something that generates hope.

“Never before in our recent history have we been faced with such unfortunate, challenging and uncertain circumstances as we are today as a community, a country, a world,” said McKim Boyd, owner of the historic Union Hotel & Restaurant in De Pere. “Yet, in the face of adversity, we stand together as downtown businesses with an unbreakable spirit of continuing to serve our customers and the community who continue to stand by us. We are forever grateful to those who are buying takeout from our restaurants, shopping our stores online, or reaching out to our other neighbors for professional services until we are safely able to fully open our doors again.”

Starting May 1, photos and accompanying short stories for each small business, including Union Hotel & Restaurant, will be featured one weekday at a time on the Downtown Faces Forward digital platforms of Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.

“The resiliency of our downtown businesses as they hang in there with better days ahead is nothing short of remarkable,” said Jeff Mirkes, executive director of Downtown Green Bay, Inc. and Olde Main Street, Inc., nonprofits that serve those respective business districts in Green Bay. “We have a lot of small businesses that are hard at work, still providing services, offering curbside pickup, arranging for delivery to their customers, putting classes online—all in the midst of the Safer at Home order. We applaud them and say thank you!”

Joining Downtown Green Bay, Inc. and Olde Main Street, Inc. as supporters of the Downtown Faces Forward initiative are Definitely De Pere, De Pere Area Chamber of Commerce, De Pere Art Center, Greater Green Bay Chamber, Greater Green Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau, and New North Inc.

“Our motto in downtown De Pere during these difficult times is #DePereStrong. But saying we are in this together extends far beyond community boundaries,” said Tina Quigley, executive director of Definitely De Pere, a nonprofit that promotes De Pere’s downtown district. “Thanks to the heroism of those on the front lines who are keeping us safe, we are all facing forward with the hope and optimism that we will bounce back and be stronger, together. And so we also stand tall and say #DowntownFacesForward!”
A listing of the more than 25 businesses and their owners is on the Downtown Faces Forward Facebook page. Some owners are photographed by themselves. Some with their families. Other communities are welcome to join in by showcasing their downtown business owners and using the hashtag #DowntownFacesForward.

“Downtowns hold a special place in the New North region and to me personally,” said Barb LaMue, executive director of New North Inc. and who previously worked at Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. “The owners of downtown businesses are proven contributors to our communities, our local governments and certainly to our economic engine. We invite everyone at home to think about how they can help our downtown storefronts from their laptops, tablets and phones at a time like this. Can you buy it local? Can you hire it to be done from here? Now, more than ever, this is the time to ask ourselves these questions so we can show our local support.”

To learn more about Downtown Faces Forward and see the faces behind the downtown businesses in Green Bay and De Pere, go to @DowntownFacesForward on Facebook and Instagram and Downtown Faces Forward on LinkedIn.

About Downtown Faces Forward is an initiative to raise awareness and support for downtown small businesses by featuring the people behind the storefronts. This effort showcases those who have made an investment in our downtowns and provide services that create a vibrant place to live, work and play. See the faces and learn the names of those who, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, are forward facing to serve their community, retain their teams, and come out of this stronger, together.

What Those At Home Can Do Downtown Faces Forward invites those at home to participate in this initiative by learning more about the small businesses in their downtown, purchasing locally through online or curbside options, hiring local professional services and, if able, contributing to the small business funds available through Definitely De Pere, Greater Green Bay Chamber, and other local organizations.

Partners Downtown Faces Forward is made possible by O’Connor Connective and is supported by local downtown enthusiasts at Definitely De Pere; De Pere Area Chamber of Commerce; De Pere Art Center; Downtown Green Bay, Inc.; Olde Main Street, Inc.; Greater Green Bay Chamber; Greater Green Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau; New North Inc.; and photographers Alexis Arnold and Mark Hawkins. These organizations hope this idea catches on and is repeated in downtowns everywhere