Downtown Rochester wins national award for supporting restaurants during COVID-19

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published June 9, 2021

 The Rochester Downtown Development Authority posted a picture of the Colossal Carrot Cake from Rochester Mills Beer Co. on its social media account during its Foodie February promotion.

The Rochester Downtown Development Authority posted a picture of the Colossal Carrot Cake from Rochester Mills Beer Co. on its social media account during its Foodie February promotion.

Photo by the Rochester DDA

ROCHESTER — The pandemic has undoubtedly delivered a big blow to the restaurant industry.  

But in the thick of COVID-19 mandates and restrictions, local eateries in downtown Rochester were able to thrive with some help from the Rochester Downtown Development Authority.

The Rochester DDA recently received an award from American Express for its efforts.

The American Express Order In, Help Out Innovation Challenge invited organizations to submit a local marketing campaign they launched encouraging people to support local restaurants by ordering takeout and delivery, or to share a successful effort they recently ran that supports local restaurants. Entries were judged on strategy, innovation and engagement, feasibility, the need and response to COVID-19, and the results and impact.

The Rochester DDA — which competed with over 30 communities across the U.S. — was named the first-place winner for its “Foodie February” campaign and “Downtown Dining Dash” platform, earning $5,000 to reinvest into its marketing and promotional efforts for the businesses this summer.

DDA Executive Director Kristi Trevarrow said the Foodie February campaign, which was launched in early February 2021, encouraged people to order from any downtown restaurant by offering a grand prize drawing and weekly “Foodie Friday” drawing for restaurant gift cards. To promote Foodie February, Trevarrow and her team held photo shoots at the restaurants to create social media graphics, got the word out in local newspapers, and hosted live cooking demonstrations on local TV channels.

The DDA’s efforts, according to American Express, had a total impact of $41,880 for local restaurants.

The Rochester DDA also created the Downtown Dining Dash, an online platform that offered customers a “one-stop shop” to purchase gift certificates for downtown restaurants, with 100% of the sales going back to the restaurants. The program is still in place, and Rochester has sold over 250 downtown restaurant gift certificates, for an impact of $6,250.

“We were really proud of the promotion that we were able to put together, because February was not a great time, in terms of the level of COVID,” Trevarrow explained. “Trying to draw people downtown in the wintertime is very challenging as well, so we had a lot of different factors that were not on our side, but we were amazed how much our community continues to show up for our downtown.”

Trevarrow said she was shocked to learn the DDA had earned first place in the challenge.

“Honestly, I got the email and I had to read it three times,” she said. “I follow a lot of other downtowns and I know that there are a lot of folks doing creative things — especially focusing on restaurants, because through all of this, that’s one of the segments downtown that has been affected so drastically.”

Rochester City Council member Mark Albrecht said the DDA launched its “Love Local Rochester” brand during the pandemic, selling face masks, hats, shirts and mugs bearing the phrase. Love Local Rochester efforts raised over $90,000, which Albrecht said all went back to local businesses.

In addition, the DDA contributed over $1.3 million to help the city survive COVID-19, according to Albrecht.

“Over $840,000 of that $1.3 million went to the parking fund to help keep it balanced and also to install new parking meters. Another $322,000 went to the Principal Shopping District to support local businesses with their (tax) assessment so they didn’t have to pay it during the tough year. The (outdoor dining) platforms and parklets cost another $120,000,” he said. “The bottom line here is that the DDA stepped up in a time of need and really partnered with the city administration and City Council to make sure that our town remained a place that was attractive for people to shop and dine out when we could.”

For more information about downtown Rochester, call (248) 656-0060 or visit DowntownRochesterMI.com.