Generally what we see in larger centres is that the larger they become, the more service oriented they are and the less kitschy, touristy and personality driven they are. The problem with size is that the local consumer demand begins to outdrive the visitor’s needs. Large communities suddenly become filled with generic chain stores or box store strips that are not appealing to tourists (even though they may be appealing to shoppers) and do not drive visitors to your community because you look the same as everywhere else.
On a smaller scale, look at a typical town of say 5,000 to 10,000 people. Does the community have a demand generator? Something significant to influence a potential visitor to leave their home, travel to the community and spend some time? Examine the main street. What is the retail mix? Walk the main street and classify each operator as local or tourist. My guess is that the majority of stores are service oriented, catering to the local population base. This of course is not wrong, but we see too many communities promoting their downtowns, attractions and community as tourist destinations when in fact there is very little for the visitor to see, do and buy there.
Want to make a change in your downtown? Focus small. Work with a small cluster of shops within one block: a coffee shop, a pub, gallery, and a candy store. Support these businesses and encourage other like-minded retail to locate within this small district. It will quickly become a hub of activity, especially after normal business hours. Suddenly you will have a retail destination that is worthy of promoting.
Have a small downtown you want to convert into a traffic driver? Encourage the development of several of the same type of retail experiences in close proximity. Shoppers will drive to your town to find selection.
Overall, it’s okay to be a service town! If your town is en-route to a tourist town, concentrate on getting cars to stop to stock up on supplies. Food is a very good motivator to get drivers to stop the car. Magnificent butter tarts, the oldest aged cheddar, or the best burgers quickly get flow through traffic to throw on the brakes. Ensure gas station and grocery store facades are appealing and customer service is top notch. Concentrating your efforts on supporting these suppliers, will turn you into a top notch supply destination, and allow you to reap the rewards of flow through traffic and not simply watch them pass you by.