The founders of Discover Warren are looking ahead to how they will make the group a more integral part of Warren’s economic vision.
It’s hard to deny that Katie Dickson and Keri Cronin are all-in on Warren. The pair of friends have sewn deep roots in the community, both through their long-running small businesses in the downtown and through their community activism via Discover Warren, the merchants group they founded (with help from others) about 12 years ago.
Today, Discover Warren — which operates as a not for profit community organization under the umbrella of Dickson’s nonprofit organization, Hometown Revival Project — has grown beyond its original scope of facilitating the popular Warren Walkabout each year and bloomed into an ardent supporter of all things small and local business-related.
“I think a merchants group that advocates just for small business of our ilk with our intended audience is necessary in the same way that small manufacturers have their own group that advocates for their own things,” Dickson said. “Just so we can get our issues floated to the top of conversations.”
Tangibly, Warren residents will recognize Discover Warren for its paper maps that outline a walkable, charted map of things to do, places to see, stores to shop at and restaurants to eat at throughout the downtown area.
But the group, or more accurately the pair of Dickson and Cronin, have become involved in much more behind the scenes as well. They have gained the attention of Bob Rulli, Town Planner, to help facilitate broader discussions from statewide commerce groups and, locally, with the Economic Development Board and the Warren Arts and Cultural Commission. It’s these kinds of discussions and intermingling of organizations that Dickson and Cronin envision will become more commonplace moving forward to continue growing Discover Warren’s influence.
“We have a real goal this year of partnering with them and utilizing their skills and person power and access to do a little bit more for everybody,” Cronin said, floating the idea of potentially holding a contest among local students and artists to design the next Warren Walkabout marketing poster.
The duo also plans to expand the original vision of the walkable map to include more businesses outside the immediate downtown vicinity, including the Metacom corridor and Touisset.
“But logistically that’s hard, because our activities have been so focused on a walkable map,” Dickson said. “I mean, I walk to Metacom but I’m a freak. It’s not super pedestrian friendly yet.”
A happy medium they see is to beef up the Discover Warren website, which would be able to display a much more comprehensive and inclusive map. Plans for an updated website remain front of mind for Dickson and Cronin because of its many possibilities for increasing exposure of local businesses and related events.
“We’re constantly moving towards the goal of the best website ever, whatever that looks like,” Cronin said. “One of the parts is a comprehensive calendar that will cover all of the arts, cultural, and historic things in town. It’s something everyone has wanted for a very long time. It had been previously folded into our list of needs for this website update, so hopefully it’s something that we will have going.”
Retooling and moving forward
During COVID, Discover Warren has suspended payments from members, which had been required to be listed on the walking map. They are currently operating on donations and grant funding. The pause from the pandemic has given them the opportunity to organize and figure out the best next steps to optimize their efforts.
“I would like us to get to the point where we had enough grant and private sponsor funding so that we could farm out things like social media work and boots on the ground stuff to actual paid interns or paid, part-time work,” Dickson said. “I think that’s really the key. When we have paid work, it goes so much better.”
The Discover Warren team currently consists of Dickson and Cronin with some assistance from Kate Simpson, who owns artisanal gift shop Cerulean on Water Street, as a social media coordinator. They are hopeful to find some additional helping hands this year, though.
“We’re at a point now where the basic functions of the group can be run by Keri and I, and we’re trying to diversify that this year with some interested, new folks,” Dickson said. “That seems to be going pretty well, so hopefully it will be a bigger group this year.”