City represents different things  to different people

Posted: February 20, 2014

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — Ben Muldrow and Aaron Arnett have learned a lot about the city after spending a couple of days here.

Residents and business owners have told the men, who work as branding experts, about Handley — the high school and the library — and Patsy Cline and the Civil War and young George Washington’s influence and the Taylor Hotel and the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival.

Realizing what Winchester is helps the business partners from Greenville, S.C.-based Arnett Muldrow & Associates (AMA) to create concepts that can be used in branding, Muldrow told one group.

But sometimes what the city isn’t — it’s not Northern Virginia, for instance — can be just as important.

“You can list all the things you are,” he said, “but it’s the things you aren’t that often create that uniqueness.”

As part of their effort to re-brand Old Town Winchester, the men led information-gathering meetings with stakeholder groups on Tuesday and Wednesday. The roundtable discussions included everyone from downtown business owners to Top of Virginia Regional Chamber officials to civic-group representatives and drew about 50 people in all.

The meetings culminated on Wednesday night with a public forum attended by about 15 residents.

Dario Savarese of Full Circle Marketing, the city company hired to assist with the branding effort, told attendees that while AMA will create the brand, “The onus is on us to take it and use it and implement it.”

Muldrow said after the night meeting that the public’s pride in the city is evident, and it’s the firm’s job to create materials that help to cultivate that pride.

“When a person lives somewhere,” he said, “it’s very easy to focus on things that need to be changed. It’s our job to create systems that constantly remind people of the positive point of view.

“That’s the advantage of looking at the community with outside eyes. The place you call home is somebody else’s vacation.”

Because of the diverse array of things that draw people to Winchester, Muldrow said the brand the firm creates “can’t have a singular target market in mind.” However, once the brand has been established, messages can be crafted targeting various markets.

At a Wednesday’s final daytime roundtable, Muldrow observed that Winchester represents different things to its neighbors in West Virginia and those in the Washington metropolitan area.

“You provide polar-opposite experiences to the markets west of you than east of you,” he said. “To markets west of you, you are the big city; to markets east of you, you are an escape.”

At Tuesday night’s City Council work session, he told the councilors that he worked in Morgantown, W.Va., last week and heard Winchester cited multiple times as an example of what local leaders would like to do there.

Muldrow said he visited Winchester seven or eight years ago and left feeling that it captured Virginia’s most charming characteristics without the hassle of being close to the Washington metropolitan area, and he compared the city to a classic car.

“When you live in a community like this,” he said, “it takes constant investment and constant work.”

When asked for a negative, Muldrow said the city “has a lot of different stories to tell” and that can create identity issues.

Old Town itself, he said, also has an identity issue — the Loudoun Street Mall vs. the secondary taxing district that rings it.

Extra real estate taxes paid by property owners within the primary and secondary taxing districts cover special expenditures focused on downtown, including the rebranding project, but the pedestrian mall has become a focus.

“My gut instinct,” Muldrow said, “is that there’s been an over-emphasis in identity to the pedestrian mall .... I think you need to start thinking about the entire district as a singular product that Loudoun Street is just part of.”

— Contact Vic Bradshaw at vbradshaw@winchesterstar.com