Most small towns in America are plagued with empty storefronts and a loss of historical significance. Ron Drake is one of the few bringing new life into these towns.
Nearly 20 years ago, equipped with experience in home restoration and drywall, Drake moved from California to Siloam Springs, Ark. He began buying area homes, updating them and then reselling.
Drake’s success in restoring homes led to an interest in doing the same for old buildings in the downtown area. But he ran into financial roadblocks. While he could readily find financing to restore homes, it was a different story for downtown storefronts. “My banker said, ‘Ron, if someone gave you these buildings, I couldn’t give you the money to restore them,’” Drake remembers.
He quickly went to work, partnering with others to finance the acquisition and restoration of the town’s old storefronts. One led to more, until he started consulting with other towns to unveil history’s gems once again.
“There are not many people helping small-town America,” Drake says. “To find someone willing to help a town of 3,000 people, it’s tough.”
Too often, people don’t believe they can bring their downtown back to life. “Ironically, the biggest challenge a small town has is psychological,” Drake says. “Downtown restoration is not brick and mortar. It’s restoration of the mind—believing it’s possible.”
Drake works to bring people together in a small town through a shared vision for what can be created. In his book, “Flip This Town,” he shares stories and tips for revitalizing a town.
People in every community have the ability to do great things, he adds. Some people can help with financials, while others secure businesses to set up shop in restored buildings. Creating new living spaces and economic drivers is Drake’s hallmark strategy.
“I always encourage people to look up. We have a tendency to just see at eye level,” he notes. “A couple who pays $750 per month for a downtown loft generates $9,000 to $11,000 of economic activity downtown.”
Economics aside, start with a dream. “Walk through and just imagine the space,” he says. “What are your core strengths and opportunities?”
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