Monroe Receives Top Honors at the 2017 Georgia Downtown Conference 

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Last week, Downtown Monroe received top honors at the Georgia Downtown Association conference. During the Annual Awards, the Georgia Downtown Association recognized Rinse Bath & Body as the Downtown Excellence-Best Small Business of the Year and Lisa Anderson as the State Downtown Development Authority Board Member of the Year. The ceremony too place last Wednesday night, Aug. 23, at the Springer Opera House in Columbus, Ga.

Leigh Ann Walker was recognized as a Downtown Development Professional at the 2017 Georgia Downtown Association Conference. Contributed photo.

Also recognized at the conference was Leigh Ann Walker, Main Street Coordinator, for receiving certification as a Downtown Development Professional. The Georgia Downtown Professional certification distinguishes downtown developers who have reached a milestone of professional success in Georgia and who are committed to continuing professional growth. The program is designed to elevate the practice of community and economic development in downtown districts thereby providing a higher level of service and improving the quality of life for all of Georgia communities and citizens. Walker was one of six in the state to receive this certification this year.

In 2003, Heather and Damyn Swanepoel founded Rinse Bath & Body as a home business, relying mainly on online sales and word of mouth. Their operation has quickly developed into a popular brand of spa products including soaps, lotions, lip balms, essential oils and more. As their business grew, so did their need for space.

In April of 2013, the business moved into a 2,500-square foot space in a historic mixed-use building. In this space, they pioneered the workshop storefront model in which half of the store was an onsite work area to make products and the other half was retail space. Initially, Rinse wanted the storefront to more effectively produce and package their products and viewed any foot traffic or local sales as a bonus to their robust online and tradeshow presence. However, the number of customers walking in off the street went far beyond their expectations.

Charlene Dunston collected the award when Rinse Bath and Body was recognized as the Downtown Excellence-Best Small Business of the Year at the 2017 Georgia Downtown Association Conference. Contributed photo

Staying true to their roots, they chose to expand by simply moving down the street to a 3,500 square foot prime corner location that had been sitting vacant for almost a year. With a little renovation work, they transformed a former pool hall into a delightful retail and workshop space. They opened in their new location in March of 2014, less than a year after first opening a storefront downtown. The hard work and energy that went into the renovations also motivated the building owners to begin their own renovations on the other two floors of the building, adding commercial space and two loft apartments. Rinse has also provided fun and rewarding jobs to people in our community. Heather and Damyn have created a joy filled work environment and they have been happy to share their lessons in growing a small business as mentors to other entrepreneurs downtown.

In 2016, Rinse expanded once again by purchasing an abandoned warehouse space in the Downtown Historic District where they make and package products. 2017 brought another expansion with the purchase of yet another downtown property. This October, you can find Rinse located at 126 South Broad Street right in the heart of downtown. You will find the Rinse Team at Disney World in Orlando and California featuring their goods at various festivals about 7 months out of the year. Rinse products are sold in more than 950 stores nationwide, including major retailers such as Uncommon Goods, Kinnucans, and Earth Bound Trading Company. Their journey across the country has been inspiring for the citizens of Monroe and anywhere the Rinse van is spotted in the US, the Handmade in Monroe logo is proudly giving a shout out to the town they call home.

Lisa Anderson was recognized as the State Downtown Development Authority Board Member of the Year at the 2017 Georgia Downtown Association Conference. Contributed photo

Currently the chairwoman of her community’s DDA, Lisa Anderson has served on the board of the Downtown Development Authority for seven years. During her tenure volunteering for the DDA, the organization has spearheaded economic development in the downtown, put a focus on the best interests of the small business owners and she has even personally purchased and renovated several downtown buildings for commercial space as well as creating a beautiful loft apartment.

Her passion for downtown is seen in her day-to-day interactions with customers, her support of new business owners, involvement in church and civic groups, and her energy and enthusiasm to have the best downtown in Georgia. Tremendous creative problem solving, a deep love of community, integrity and work ethnic make Lisa Anderson, the Chairwoman of the Monroe Downtown Development Authority our 2017 Board Member of the Year.

As the premier event on downtown development and historic preservation in the state, the Georgia Downtown Conference promotes downtown and economic development through public awareness, governmental relations and education.

“We are so excited to see our volunteers and small businesses recognized at the State level. Downtown Monroe was well represented at the conference. It was an honor to stand beside these recipients to see the fruits of their labor pay off in a big way! We know we have the best downtown and are excited to share this accomplishment with our community!” Leigh Ann Walker 

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