Downtown Faces Forward initiative expands to Fox Cities to bring awareness, support for downtown businesses

As hope grows that many businesses in Northeastern Wisconsin are getting back to work and opening their doors again after two months of stay-at-home orders to control the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), there’s no time like the present for communities to get behind their resilient downtown business owners who are facing forward.

After great success of spotlighting these downtown faces and their businesses in Green Bay and De Pere since May 1, the Downtown Faces Forward initiative on social media has expanded to the Fox Cities.

“We are thrilled to have downtown small business owners in Appleton and Neenah stepping up to join their front-facing colleagues in Greater Green Bay for this creative campaign that has lifted spirits and strengthened community pride during these challenging times,” said Michelle Dejno, vice president of O’Connor Connective. “We know that while the state begins reopening, we’re in this for the long haul of getting back to full speed. We don’t want people to forget how important it is to support local, so we’re happy and honored to be showcasing many more faces behind the storefronts in celebration of having their downtowns face forward.”

The team at O’Connor Connective, a strategic marketing communications consultancy in downtown De Pere, created the concept of Downtown Faces Forward. They have partnered with local photographers in their respective communities to feature business owners and their fortitude during the COVID-19 challenge. Image Studios Inc. in Appleton is focusing its camera lenses on downtown faces in the Fox Cities.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made life challenging for every one of us. As a small business owner, the state’s ‘Safer at Home’ order affected our revenue by more than 50%. It’s during these unprecedented times, where we are afraid and uncertain, that nobody should be feeling alone. Now is the time to reach out with what we have and join together,” said Donna Gehl, president and CEO of Image Studios.

“This is why I’m proud to partner with O’Connor Connective on the Downtown Faces Forward campaign. Their creativity and commitment to supporting local, small businesses resonates with me. My hope is that, by capturing the resilient spirit of the downtown business owners, we will energize our community for better days ahead,” Gehl added.

In late April, owners of downtown small businesses in Green Bay and De Pere first said “yes” to having their photos taken with appropriate social distancing. More will be captured throughout the spring. Many say that participating in this project has helped generate hope while they face forward in anticipation of their businesses opening again.

Supporters of the expansion of the Downtown Faces Forward initiative to the Fox Cities are Appleton Downtown Inc.; Future Neenah Inc.; Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau; and New North Inc.

“Just as it has with every community throughout the New North, the state and the country, the COVID-19 pandemic has rocked business as we know it in downtown Appleton,” said Jennifer Stephany, executive director of Appleton Downtown Inc. (ADI). “But through all of the hardships, our vibrant and tight-knit business community will bounce back ever stronger and continue to make downtown Appleton ‘One Great Place,’ as we like to say. So we are grateful to have our downtown faces highlighted in this campaign.”

Photos and accompanying short stories for each small business are being featured every day, including weekends, on the Downtown Faces Forward digital platforms of Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.

“Having our downtown Neenah small business owners and their businesses profiled on the Downtown Faces Forward social media platforms for so many to see, learn about and celebrate comes at an opportune time,” said Nikki Hessel, executive director of Future Neenah. “While knowing we still need to be safe and practice social distancing as we hopefully start reopening more, this is our opportunity as a community to say thanks and get behind our dedicated, resilient businesses that continue to be here for us.”

A listing of the more than 45 businesses and their owners is on the Downtown Faces Forward Facebook page. Some owners are photographed by themselves. Some with their families. Other communities are welcome to join in by showcasing their downtown business owners and using the hashtag #DowntownFacesForward.

“The small businesses in our downtowns are the lifeblood of what makes the Fox Cities a popular destination in the Upper Midwest, no matter the time of year,” said Pam Seidl, executive director of Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau. “The Fox Cities have always been a safe place to visit, and we know our local businesses will make the health of our residents and visitors the highest priority as well as they begin to reopen. We encourage residents and visitors alike to face forward with our businesses as we all come out of this stronger, together.”

To learn more about Downtown Faces Forward and see the faces behind the downtown businesses in the Fox Cities as well as Green Bay and De Pere, go to @DowntownFacesForward on Facebook and Instagram and Downtown Faces Forward on LinkedIn.

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