By Fred Arnold Telescope Publisher
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“There’s nothing in Belleville anymore, the town is dying.”
No words strike more fear into promoters and supporters of Belleville. And according to Waylon Sheetz, nothing could be further from the truth. The Chamber & Main Street director says that the business district in Belleville is alive and vibrant.
“A young adult in their 20’s was asked how many businesses are in Belleville, their answer was 25,” he said. “But when you look, and I mean actually look, Belleville has approximately 135 businesses, that really is a staggering amount.”
Sheetz said there is a misconception about what typifies “a business.” He said people tend to think of things like clothing stores, shoe stores, department stores and hardware stores when they think of business.
“But business is much more than that,” he said.
The chamber director noted that certainly businesses may be brick and mortar retail stores, but they are also: home-based, mobile-based, e-commerce and service-oriented. “A lot has changed from the times when businesses were located only on the downtown square,” he added. “In Belleville we certainly have businesses downtown, but we also have them on Highways 81 and 36 and to a degree even in residential districts.”
Sheetz said for purposes of considering ‘downtown only’ Belleville is not in bad shape. In fact, just the opposite. He said there are currently 72 buildings in what’s considered the business district. Of those, 19 are vacant or are presently for sale. Five of those are considered unsafe structures.
“What this tells me is that 74% of our buildings are currently being used,” he added
Can’t See What We Have
The Chamber & Main Street director said one of the most frustrating parts of his job lies in education. He said local people oftentimes don’t see how strong Belleville is as an economic force.
But other people do. “I was recently talking to an individual from a neighboring county about Belleville and they mentioned that as an outsider they can see a great sense of community and how we as Belleville know what it means to stick together,” Sheetz said.
“We are friendly. We have a newspaper and a radio station that talk constantly about (positive) happenings in the area. We aren’t trying to become the next Manhattan or Salina. Belleville knows what we can put together and do and it is always of the highest quality.”
Still, Sheetz said the community cannot rest on what they were, or even what they are. The only thing constant is change.
“I believe that downtown Belleville is definitely not dying,” he said. “We may need to re-think what is needed for a downtown in rural America to survive in the 21st century such as how do we compete with e-commerce?”
Sheetz said the state of downtown buildings is one of the primary issues that needs to be acted upon. He said the community needs to put their heads together to remedy this situation.
“This is not going to happen overnight or even in the next year,” he said. “But I believe that we, as Belleville, can fill every building downtown and see prosperous activity for commerce to take place.”
“I believe that downtown Belleville is definitely not dying. ”— Waylon Sheetz, Belleville Chamber & Main St Director
He said that while negativity tends to spread like wildfire, positive results seem to happen more slowly and don’t garner as much coffee shop talk. And that’s just fine with Sheetz and he assures good things are happening in Belleville.
“Belleville is a thriving community that understands we are not a metropolis but we are in fact a small town with great shops and businesses…but that we are not satisfied with the status quo and want to keep adapting to changing economic climates.”
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Come to the office and get planning for your next trip. Brand new Kansas travel guides and much more! pic.twitter.com/bplrE95T3h— Belleville Chamber & Main Street (@Bell_MainStreet) January 4, 2020