Downtown Van Buren should capitalize on its current strengths to bring new business to Main Street.

That was one of the conclusions of a class project by students from the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith on enhancing the historic downtown area of Van Buren.

Since the beginning of September, students of the UAFS College of Business have been studying and researching various aspects of downtown Van Buren to come up with ideas and suggestions for improvements. Students are part of the Business College’s Marketing Research class taught by Assistant Professor of Marketing Dr. Elise Riker.

On Nov. 28 and 30, students made presentations to the public at the King Opera House.

UAFS students JD Clayton, Chasse Daniels, Bailey Katzfey, Grady McCain and Christian Taggart reported on bringing new business to Van Buren.

In addition to capitalizing on current strengths, the students suggested increased and modernized marketing efforts as well as educating prospective businesses.

Students stated the economy of downtown Van Buren started to plateau at the turn of the century and has continued to decline.

“We believe the decline can be attributed to several factors, the primary factor being that the businesses in the downtown area are not meeting the needs and wants of the consumers,” the report states.

Students noted a sense of community with supportive actions from The Old Town Merchants Association.

“We are all very tight around here,” one merchant stated. “We come in and check on each other. It makes you feel better having a neighbor.”

The report pointed out Van Buren’s annual median household income is $5,000 more than Fort Smith with lower poverty and unemployment rates, according to information gathered from the U.S. census.

One-hundred percent of the interviewed shop owners in downtown Van Buren agreed that events are significant in increasing the success of their businesses by increasing foot traffic, sales, brand exposure and connections.

Merchants told the students:

• “During events, there is a huge improvement. The last event was junk fest that was amazing for all the merchants.”

• “Events help to bring in the locals. We need more locals to support their community.”

• “Events bring exposure. They expose your business to people that otherwise wouldn’t have come down.”

Merchants on Main Street agree that consumer friendliness is a strength of downtown, including its walk-ability, public restrooms and nearby parking as well as its outdoor seating and being family friendly, the report states.

Other strong points noted were the Drennen-Scott House, excursion train, King Opera House and Victorian-style buildings.

Upcoming on Saturday will be the students’ reports on Van Buren Original events and suggestions from four downtown merchants.