It seems like businesses in downtown Oxford are dropping like flies these days.
Oxford Wine & Beverage Co. closed at the end of last year.
Pink & Charlie shut its doors on Monday.
Beadifferent Boutique has “store closing” signs posted in the front and back.
Folks are wondering who’s next.
In an effort to help preserve and bolster the town’s remaining businesses, an informal group of local mothers and business owners is planning a special event dubbed Experience Oxford.
It will run from Friday, April 20 to Sunday, April 22. The idea is to promote the variety of goods and services available in Oxford by encouraging people to stroll the streets and explore their business community.
Any Oxford business, be it in or out of the downtown area, is welcome to participate in Experience Oxford.
“We do have a lot to offer, but nobody knows what we have,” said Oxford resident Meg Buckley, a member of the group.
“People keep saying, ‘We wish we had this in Oxford. We wish we had that in Oxford,’” said Stacey Beane, co-owner of You, Me, and Bubble Tea, but the fact is it’s usually already “right in their backyard and they don’t even know (it).”
Experience Oxford is all about saying to people “look what we have here, look what Oxford has to offer.”
“We have a ton of talent in Oxford,” Beane said. “We have a ton of good stores and good resources in Oxford, but you’re never going to get (any businesses) to stay here if you don’t know what’s here and you don’t support them.”
It bothers Buckley that when people inquire through social media about where to find certain items or services, “95 percent of the time,” businesses outside of Oxford are suggested or recommended, even “when we offer it here.”
“We have these things,” Buckley said. “Why are you pushing business out of Oxford? Why are you going elsewhere?”
Folks who are interested in contributing their time, ideas, talents and resources to organizing Experience Oxford are invited to attend a 9 a.m. planning meeting at You, Me, and Bubble Tea (40 N. Washington St.) on Thursday, Feb. 1.
“The more hands on deck, the more help we can get, the better,” Buckley said.
Right now, the group includes local mothers, like Buckley, and local business owners such as Cathy Darling and Beane (You, Me, and Bubble Tea), Angie Green (Evergreens Coffee and Bakeshop) and Nicolette Shagena (Caveman & Pip).
Buckley explained it all started a couple weeks ago with a conversation about “why we are losing so many downtown businesses.”
“It kind of snowballed from that,” she said. “We all just kind of got together and started talking about what we could do to help.”
One of the problems, according to Buckley, is the “disconnect” between businesses and entities such as the Downtown Development Authority, Chamber of Commerce and village and township governments.
“A lot of the businesses have complained that communication” between them and those entities is “nonexistent,” Buckley said.
She believes these entities need to do more to help promote the business community.
“The lack of public education and public information is scary,” Buckley said.
Although she doesn’t own a business, Buckley cares deeply about what happens to them.
“I believe in Oxford. I don’t want to see it fail,” she explained. “I was born and raised in Oxford, moved away, (then) came back because this is where I wanted to raise my family.”
The closing of Pink & Charlie really hit home for Buckley. “That (was) my favorite store in our entire town,” she explained. “That (was) my husband’s go-to (place) for birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries, all of it.”
Its closing “pushed” her to roll up her sleeves and get involved in efforts to help the business community.
“If I’m just going to sit back like everybody else on Facebook . . . and whine and moan, then I’m no different,” Buckley said.
The details surrounding Experience Oxford are still being worked out, however, two facets are “pretty much set in stone,” according to Beane.
One is “The Wildcat Walk,” which will consist of fiberglass Wildcat statues, painted or decorated by local artists and placed in front of participating businesses.
The idea is folks will come to see the colorful statues, snap photos with them and take a peek inside the businesses. The statues will be paid for by a combination of local businesses and various organizations.
“If they’re interested in sponsoring a Wildcat, they’re welcome to contact us and we will be able to get them one,” Beane said.
The statues will remain in place through September. “That will hopefully draw business to our town all summer,” Beane said.
When it’s over, the public will be given an opportunity to meet the artists and sponsors, and purchase the Wildcats at a charity auction.
The other thing being planned is a special activity for kids. They will each be given an Oxford passport, then they’ll visit participating businesses, find the hidden Wildcat inside each one of them and get their passport stamped. Kids will turn in their passports to receive little prizes and be entered in a drawing, Beane noted.
In Buckley’s mind, one of the biggest reasons to support local businesses is the fact that they often contribute to everything from youth sports teams to local charities and fund-raisers to school clubs.
“Local businesses here give back to our community, specifically our kids,” she said.
Big companies, like Amazon, aren’t going to do that, she noted. “The local businesses care about the local environment,” Buckley said. “They care about the schools. They care about the community.”
She likes it that when she walks into an Oxford business, the people who work there know her name, inquire about her children and take an interest in how her day is going.
“It’s not like I’m going into some big chain store (where) I’m just another number,” Buckley said. “It’s like going to see friends. If we don’t save that and we lose that, then it’s not there for my kids.”
Folks who are interested in helping with Experience Oxford, but cannot attend the meeting, are welcome to contact Buckley through the “Oxford Kids and Family” Facebook page, of which she is the administrator.
They can also contact Beane and Darling at You, Me, and Bubble Tea, the phone number for which is (248) 572-7633.
“We are going to try and do an evening meeting for some of the business owners that aren’t available in the morning. We just don’t have a date planned yet,” Beane noted.