Consultant promotes historic downtown businesses

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LEXINGTON, Va. (WDBJ) -- How do you save an historic downtown?

“Nobody else is going to do it," says business consultant Margie Johnson. "They have to do it for themselves.”

Johnson worries about this every day. She’s spending several days in Lexington – as she has in hundreds of communities across the country – talking to local retailers like the folks at the Cocoa Mill (“Mmm, oh my,” she says as she tastes the product) about the health of their business, their place in the downtown community, and how to help them grow and flourish.

“One of the big trends in shopping is to create a sense of experience," Johnson explains. "You know, the store we’re in now, for example, that I’ll be talking with, she’s creating the experience here in this yarn shop. It’s amazing. And people come. It becomes more than just a place; it’s an event.”

As she talks with each business owner, Johnson listens for not just their business model, but how they fit into the new economic world.

“It’s a very different environment than anybody worked in 5, 10, 15, 20 years ago,” Johnson says.

But one that, with the help of Johnson and the Main Street organization that brought her to town, she hopes to see businesses in small, historic downtowns like Lexington’s adapt and grow.

“It’s amazing, when you look around – you just look at the towns in the state of Virginia, that are in this initiative and what they’re doing," she said.. "It’s very exciting. It keeps me awake at night.”