Pulse of Downtown

Like so many promotional ideas, the Female Focus group started out as one thing and quickly morphed into something bigger.

The Heart of Medford Association, which relentlessly beats the downtown shopping drum, put out a call in its autumn newsletter to women between the ages of 25 and 70 to serve as a focus group.

The association sought feedback on comparative shopping experiences, but the original idea went by the wayside, said Sally Densmore, who was heading up the effort. "We didn't have enough time or volunteers."

But in this era when every marketing and data component is collected in the digital cloud, the folks promoting "Metro Medford" — that downtown territory roughly defined by Bear Creek to the east, Oakdale Avenue to the west, Jackson Street to the north and 10th Street to the south — are sure to gather a plethora of information.

"We're inviting people to retrain their cars to go downtown to Metro Medford, take their (Christmas) list," said Diane Raymond, executive director for the 100-member HMA.

"After they've done their shopping, we want them to go online and take a quick survey and tell us about their experience."

The ultimate aim, she said, is to lure people who normally wouldn't think about visiting the Heart of Medford.

"We want them to find out what they're missing," she said. "From an economic-development standpoint, we want to find out what we need to recruit to downtown."

Although the last chain department store — J.C. Penney — left for the Rogue Valley Mall in 1986, and locals such as Miller's and Robinson's are long gone, plenty of retail alternatives have popped up in the intervening years.

From the early survey returns, downtown explorers were more than satisfied with dining opportunities, giving it a 10 out of 10.

One respondent reported: "We were surprised and quite excited to find such a myriad of products — from beauty products to household furnishings — just a couple of blocks from our office."

Raymond said one downtown patron noted the need for a convenience store or a liquor store.

The Heart of Medford Association has expanded its dining guide to include other businesses and services.

"It's comprehensive," Raymond said of the map now available at the Chamber of Commerce office, at the corner of Front and Eighth streets, the Medford airport, the Medford Parks & Recreation office, and most downtown merchants.

"It's all about changing people's perceptions," she said. "Over the years, people have come to think downtown doesn't have anything to offer them. We want people to look through a new lens."

Raymond thinks more merchants will open shops in the near future as more office space is completed.

"With The Commons being completed and One West Main going up, it's suddenly creating a reason for people to come downtown," she said. "It's always been a walking district, but when there are another 200 employees here, it will change the mix. We're all working for the same goal, creating a hip, cool and vibrant metro Medford."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com.

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