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Block party helps promote Northcrest Center (w/video)

By ALLISON MILES
Dec. 10, 2013 at 6:10 a.m.

Bliss Bridal employees Kimberly Morris, left, and Whitney Stancik, right, hand out mini cakes to Yazmine Artiaga, 14, center left, and her brother, Zane, 9, during the Northcrest Center block party Tuesday. The family heard about the event on the radio and decided to complete a tour of the businesses on their way home.

Tools of the trade

Are you a business looking to brand yourself or let others know what you have to offer? Here are a few tips to consider:

Engage the local news media.

• Newspapers and TV stations oftentimes run information free of charge. Put out a press release.

Don't forget the paid media.

• Advertising and marketing professionals can bring a big advantage. Use advertising dollars in a way to bring more attention to what you do.

Go online.

• Social media is an effective way to get word to the community about the services you offer. One problem, however, is your message won't reach people you aren't friends with online.

Be open to new ideas.

• Listen to everyone's opinions and take all into account. At the end of the day, make the decision that's best for your business and customers.

Get creative.

• Be willing to think outside the box and go outside your comfort zone. It can bring benefits.

Offer a quality product.

• A business can do everything right when it comes to marketing, but if the service or product are subpar, customers won't return.

Source: Mike Sizemore, owner of Sizemore Media & Consulting

For years, the Brown Bag Saloon served as the watering hole of choice for Victoria resident Jeff Stasny. The bar at 8609 N. Navarro St. is where the Bugmobiles employee said he enjoys kicking back after a long day's work with friends.

There's just one thing.

"I never knew this center's name," he said with a glance around Northcrest Center, the plaza Brown Bag calls home. "And I live right behind Northcrest - grew up there."

Stasny's story isn't an unusual one, but it's one area businesses hope to reverse. And this week, they took their first step toward change.

Northcrest Center business owners hosted a holiday block party Tuesday to introduce the community to the companies present.

The event was also a way to brand the center, which recently erected a new sign, said Joe Anthony Pena, who owns Hair Dimensions, a 20-year resident of the center.

"We've had people who were customers for 15 or more years who didn't know this center's name," he said. "And we also saw the success of places like Whispering Creek. We wanted to get together and do something."

Thus, after Pena pitched the idea - he once carried out a similar event in San Antonio - and following three weeks of planning, the block party came to be.

"I'm excited," he said. "All the businesses were for it."

The shopping center maintains a long history in Victoria, said Property Manager Isabel Simmons, with Starboard Corp. While the original building went up in 1956, an addition joined the mix in 1997.

Brown Bag Saloon, with 27 years under its belt, has been there the longest.

Although Simmons said the management company doesn't promote one tenant over another, she said it does support the businesses in the center. On Tuesday afternoon, she found herself cutting sandwiches into snowman and Christmas tree shapes for visitors on her leg of the tour.

Victoria residents Debbie Stephens and Jill Clark, among the first to have their game cards stamped by each business, finished their challenge by 4:14 p.m. That was a mere 14 minutes after the night got its start.

The friends said they enjoyed the event, which introduced them to businesses they'd never before visited and allowed them snacks and giveaways along the way.

Still, their night didn't end then.

When another friend, Stasny, joined them for drinks at the Brown Bag, they led him from store to store, too.

Stasny said he hadn't planned on participating that night, but it was nice to do something different.

"It's interesting," he said. "Everybody's having a blast."

Lauren Tagliabue, who owns the Double J Eatery, agreed. In addition to stamps on their cards, guests who visited the restaurant Tuesday got samples of fried shrimp and chicken as well as a cup of tea.

She said she and her employees want to get word out not only about their meals and services - not everyone knows they offer catering - but also about the center in general.

"We're always the ones to say, 'We're across from Lowe's, behind the Brown Bag,'" she said, noting her business has been there almost 14 years. "This is great."

Fifteen years ago, Cookies By Design was the first business to move into the center's new addition, said Annie Vahalik, the business' owner. And Tuesday, it was good to see everyone working together to help one another.

"You always need to be there for your neighbor," she said. "Here, we're lucky we have great neighbors."

Dwayne Moore, with Farmers Insurance Group, agreed the effort was good news for everyone.

"In the private sector, you have to put your name out there," he said.

It wasn't just the business owners who stood to gain from the evening event, however. Visitors, too, hoped to go home with something nice.

With a cookie in one hand and game card in the other, Faith Academy junior Nyla Simmons - Isabel Simmons' daughter - gathered all her necessary stamps early on.

The thrifty teen had big plans for the evening's potential prizes, which included a Coach purse, prom dress giveaway and more.

"I'll give them as Christmas presents," she said with a smile.

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