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Roger Brooks of Destination Development Association, spent more than a week exploring the community in a “secret shopper” assignment for the area’s tourism organization, Real Racine. A Friday morning presentation at Memorial Hall offered a number of suggestions for changes, additions or improvements.

Secret shopper finds Racine’s gems and warts

Brooks was careful to not call them recommendations.

Roger Brooks was complimentary of downtown kiosks, but suggested they be used for seasonal event signage, not one-off posting.

Store hours. Brooks said that “70 percent of all consumer spending takes place after 6 p.m.” He suggested longer retail hours, especially downtown.

Wayfinding signs. Brooks suggested that wayfinding signage, especially downtown, can make it easier for people to find what they want, without relying on GPS applications. “Navigation systems are not a substitute for signage.

“Make the wording simple,” he added. “Lots of foreign visitors don’t speak English. Wayfinding signs are the smartest investment you can make.”

Gateway signs. The signs that greet drivers coming into the city on mair arteries are dated, “carnival-like” and too wordy, Brooks explained. He added that signs seen from cars should be limited to eight words.

Waterfront hotels. The one downtown Racine has is nice, Brooks noted, but the city needs three more along the water. “Waterfront hotels will outperform highway hotels 4 to 1.

Improve trails. Brooks expressed frustration finding and then navigating the city’s several trail. They are often not signed at all, and in once case he found a trail fenced off.

Create a “Best Of” attractions brochure. He said the area as a whole was missing an opportunity to cash in on the “lists” phenomenon used by magazines, websites and other marketing efforts. An accordion-fold style brochure that can fit in a No. 10 envelope, featuring the area’s top attractions, can be a powerful tool. He cited an example of a city/county that created such a piece and mailed it to all of its own citizens. He drove a demand for more that people were then sharing with their own friends and visitors. “We turned every dining room table into a concierge desk,” he said.

Festival Hall. Brooks said Festival Hall seemed to be an under-used venue, especially given its location and large amount of covered outdoor space. He suggested it might be an ideal location for an indoor/outdoor market.

Retake Main Street. Brooks suggested the City of Racine wrangle control of Main Street from the state and return it to one lane in each direction through downtown. He suggested that a return to angle-in parking could been boon to downtown merchants, restaurants; and slower traffic would mean more drivers would stop to shop.

Blade signs for downtown. Simple flat signs perpendicular to the front of buildings would help tell those walking and driving down city streets what business is inside. It is often difficult to determine what is going on inside the storefront, Brooks said.

Rex Davenport is a reporter, editor and editorial project manager with more than 40 years of experience in newspaper, business magazines and other content channels.