It takes a village: Blissfield is on a roll

What’s happening: The village of Blissfield is on a roll, with new businesses, expanding businesses and a cadre of volunteers who plan to keep downtown buzzing— with 23 events on the coming year’s calendar, each drawing hundreds of locals and visitors into the quaint downtown.

How it started: The Blissfield DDA/Main Street organization was founded in 2010 with the aim of preserving the village’s business district and establishing and maintaining a prosperous and welcoming community.
Main Street activities are intended to support expansion of food, arts, and heritage experiences and to create a business environment that supports and sustains full-time businesses that serve residents and visitors.

Blissfield’s downtown runs along the U.S. 223 corridor in Lenawee County and has a well-defined, traditional, central business district. Since May, Laura Nichols has been manager of Blissfield Downtown Development Authority, a position that had been vacant since January.

A view of downtown Blissfield.

How it’s going: Since her arrival, Nichols says eight new businesses have opened or reopened downtown— a craft brewery, restaurants, a hair salon, ice cream parlor and a bowling alley.

Nichols has boosted new and existing businesses with social media, recording videos and photos of businesses to introduce them to the community. These “Mainstreet Minutes” are popular and well-shared, she says. The idea: To prompt shoppers to think of buying locally.

Volunteers have stepped up to help, too, and Nichols oversees 16 volunteer committees that plan and execute events from car and tractor shows to holiday festivals.

“For example, My Parade of Lights event, that's got 10 people on the committee and probably 20 volunteers that come and help,“ Nichols says. “There are lots of opportunities to get plugged in (to a community activity)  a little or a lot.”

A community survey of interests, she says, has helped guide the creation of several new retail-driven events. 
Adding to the general labor shortage, she says, is the scarcity of teen workers for after-school jobs. “We used to have a population of kids who wanted to work, and now they're in sports. Even if they're not in sports at school, they're in a club sport,” Nichols says. “My own granddaughter, she can't get a job because she's got to practice every night.”

That shortage of help contributes to another problem she’s trying to address— businesses need to be open when they say they will be. 

“Nothing frustrates a potential shopper more than coming to town and finding a business closed when it should be open, with a note on the door explaining the owner had to leave for some reason. This isn't a hobby, it’s business,” Nichols says, “and if you can't be there, you need somebody who can be.” 

How rosy is the future? Nichols says Blissfiled’s strengths include an attractive, quaint downtown, a group of innovative young entrepreneurs, a good balance of retail and service businesses, and location, location, location. “The beauty of Blissfield is that we are on the way to all of the lakes,’’ she says, “and in the summertime we just get tremendous traffic.”

A Tax Increment Finance plan that funds downtown development programs was recently renewed for another 20 years, and there is no shortage of community involvement, both in downtown programs and school and community groups, Nichols says.

“I think people want a vibrant downtown. They want a social district, they want a couple of bars, they want several places to eat. They want to shop, they want to come down and just have a good time. People will come and put their businesses here if it's a vibrant, dynamic downtown. So that's what we're pushing for right now.” 

Here’s a sample: Ann Lambrix, Blissfield’s Yuletide Committee Chair, gave an example of one of the community’s signature events. “We are very pleased with the continued success in our biggest event, Yuletide, which is held on the second weekend in November every year,” she says.

Yuletide, a shopping weekend to kick off the holidays with extended hours and vendor booths, includes several events within the event, such as Taste of Blissfield, where local fare is provided in sample sizes; Breakfast with Santa on Saturday morning, families to come eat breakfast with Santa before posing for pictures and a candy cane later in the day; cider tasting at Yuletide Cheer, which ends the Saturday with a hard-cider tasting and a band.  

“Yuletide is our biggest event, but certainly not our only one.  Our little town loves to dress up and host an occasion.... with Wassail and Parade of Lights in December, Car Shows and Movie Night in the summer, and Black Squirrel and Antiques in Autumn vendor shows in the spring and fall,” Lambrix says.  “We are always looking for ways to highlight our businesses and promote our town!”
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