In order to revive the downtown economy, Carlisle has put the “High I” project in motion. Named for the I-shape formed by High Street, West Street, and Hanover Street, this project seeks to revitalize the section of downtown between Dickinson College and the square. The High I Project is one of many efforts by the town to revive life and business in Downtown Carlisle. “As a constant, they actually have someone in place that is out actively soliciting and looking for the types of business that would succeed in downtown,” said Diane Vaughn in discussing the progress of the High I Project.
Reviving the downtown economy will not be solved by the actions of one group. The area is home to many small businesses; some of which have been there for many years. Dickinson College also plays a major role in the economy of downtown. Students utilize the area as a place to shop and eat throughout the school year. The citizens of Carlisle utilize downtown in similar ways. Therefore, the issue becomes finding a way to bring these multiple economic resources of Carlisle together to revive the town.
“Carlisle is handed down from generation to generation with one mindset. You have young entrepreneurs like myself, who are saying we need change, but people are just staying on a steady course. The problem is trying to get everyone together, and to be open minded to a lot of new ideas. Unless we all get together and do it, it is not going to happen,” said Matthew Pisano on his beliefs of the necessities that must take place to spark the revitalization of downtown Carlisle
In order to bring the downtown business district back to life, the members of the community must join together to come up with new plans for revitilization. Author Stacy Mitchell proposes four aspects of rebuilding local retail, ” organizing broad community support for the plan; improving the downtowns physical structure by rehabilitating buildings and enhancing the pedestrian environment; promoting the distrcit through events; and nurturing business activity.” In order for these four aspects to take place, the multiple communities and businesses of Carlisle must join together in a collaborative effort to improve the downtown economy. Carlisle Events needs to lead this effort by continuing to bring visitors around the world to Carlisle.
Identifying the Source
When most people hear the word Carlisle they think of car shows, but they do not think of downtown Carlisle when they hear the words car shows. Here lies the difficult task of associating the annual car events with the downtown business district. The Downtown Carlisle Association and members of the High I Project struggle to draw business into downtown and away from big-box stores, while not interfering with the business of Carlisle Events. Prior to making any proposals for working in collaboration with the car shows, the town must first identify the reasons car show visitors bypass the downtown area. After discovering the reasons, then the town must work directly with Carlisle Events to create and put into action, proposals for igniting the fire of the downtown business district.
- 1. The eleventh corridor off of Route 81 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike exit off the side of town opposite the business district. If car show traffic had to pass through the downtown area to get to hotels and car shows, there would possibly be more knowledge of the area.
- 2. The month of August in Carlisle is home to the “Corvettes at Carlisle” parade through downtown. “Our parade is taken downtown and they filter out into the taverns and restaurants. A number of the stores don’t stay open at night though,” said Diane Vaughn, Director of Customer Relations at Carlisle Events. The parade participants are not given the chance to explore the shopping options offered by downtown because stores are either closed on the weekend or close early afternoon. Car shows run from early morning until late afternoon. Therefore, the flow of people to their hotels takes place mainly after five o’clock. At this hour, restaurants and bars are the only major businesses open in downtown.
- 3. Wal-Mart, Target, and other big-box stores and malls have been driving independent competitors out of business for years. Three stores in particular have gone out of business as a result of superstores opening in Carlisle: Handy Hardware, Cochran and Allen, and Castles Ace Hardware.
There are also many other small business owners who have either failed or suffered from the impact of name brand superstores. Competing with these stores is difficult due to their popular name brands and low prices. The issue with both car show visitors and citizens of the community becomes figuring out a way to draw attention to the downtown shopping areas.
In discussing the effects of Wal-Mart on car show visitors, Diane Vaughn says, “People go with where they are familiar…where they have charge cards…where they know what they can get.” People from the events venturing off of the fairgrounds bypass the downtown area. This is either a result of a lack of knowledge of what downtown has to offer, or a lack of interest. Vanessa Fiorentino is working to recruit new business as retail coordinator with the Downtown Carlisle Association. Speaking on Ms. Fiorentino’s findings, Diane Vaughn said, “She realized that while we have this incredible number of visitations by car show visitors that she wouldn’t necessarily capture that downtown.”
“Why should we get off when there isn’t any shopping in downtown?”
Carlisle must utilize the car shows as a great resource for downtown publicity and revival. Carlisle Events has struggled to create an interest in downtown shopping for their visitors, but continues in their efforts to support the economy.
Shuttle busses have become one way to offer visitors at the fairgrounds transportation around Carlisle. The company used to own its own shuttle busses, but due to the lack of visitor interest, Carlisle Events now uses a bussing company. The shuttles are offered during the Spring and Fall shows and run as late as five o’clock. Drivers follow a loop that goes from the fairgrounds through downtown and to the shopping centers of Wal-Mart and Target. The shuttles do not generate enough interest and are never full.
Therefore, the focus by Carlisle Events and the downtown businesses must be turned to generating downtown shopping interest during the actual events, which could possibly encourage more people to use the shuttles to get downtown. “We can possibly coordinate something…if someone wanted to come and give a talk about what is downtown…If any of the merchants downtown wanted to do a consolidated booth maybe we could get somewhere to show them a sampling (of what is downtown),” said Diane Vaughn, in relation to generating interest for downtown Carlisle. The car shows present an array of shopping and activities for car enthusiasts but the “real shopper is still at a loss.” Another possible way of drawing attention to the downtown area would be through advertisements.
As thousands of visitors travel through downtown they pass by vacant stores and shops closed down during late afternoons. Staying open later and promoting business on sidewalks and in store fronts could possibly attract the attention of visitors. Another proposal is for stores to combine to form a flyer consisting of “car show specials” in the downtown area. Flyers can be distributed during car shows, or as visitors travel through town to generate interest. A majority of car show visitors have attended shows before and grow to learn the layout of the town. Welcoming visitors with a banner or store front signs would demonstrate the town’s involvment and support of the car shows, which in turn could also generate more business.
Matty’s Kitchen, on board with the revitalization of the downtown economy, has plans to create excitement in the downtown area in the future.[audio:https://blogs.dickinson.edu/carlislehistory/files/mattyactivityclip1.mp3]
Carlisle Events and the town of Carlisle must work together to help revitalize the downtown area. The car shows are an untapped resource and can have a major effect on business in downtown. Combining these efforts with the efforts of Dickinson College, the town of Carlisle, the Army War College, and all of the local business owners could possibly boost the economy of downtown Carlisle.
Interview clip with Matthew Pisano discussing the car shows as a tourist attraction in Carlisle.[audio:https://blogs.dickinson.edu/carlislehistory/files/interview-with-matthew-clip.mp3]
 Matthew Pisano, Interview with Author, October 25, 2007. Mitchell, Stacy. Big Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-retailers and the Fight for Americas Independent Businesses. (Boston: Beacon Press, 2006), 228. Diane Vaughn, Interview with Author, November 5, 2007. Mitchell, Stacy. Big Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-retailers and the Fight for Americas Independent Businesses. (Boston: Beacon Press, 2006), 34. Diane Vaughn, Interview with Author, November 5, 2007. Diane Vaughn, Interview with Author, November 5, 2007.