Where are they now?

Embedded Community Experience in Columbiana, Ohio

Visit by Deb in February 2019.

Columbiana, Ohio is a small town Deb visited in February 2019 for an Embedded Community Experience. 6,400 people live in the town Harvey Firestone called home oh so many years ago.

  • One focus was on the downtown area because there quite a few empty storefronts.
  • One owner of several buildings wanted to make downtown more entertainment focused, more places to eat and drink and be entertained, less retail.
  • They have three areas in town for retail, it’s called the Triangle. Downtown, Firestone Park and DutchHaus eating and shopping. 

Lance Willard, city manager and Tom Mackell of Firestone Farms accompanied Deb to most of the activities and visits. There were several other residents, business people and organizations that got involved as well. 

In the past year, Columbiana has made leaps and bounds in their pursuit of becoming a friendlier town. Here are just a few of their results.

  1. All of the buildings downtown are filled, except one. There are more restaurants than antique stores, and the antique stores that are there have created an inviting place to come experience their wares.
  2. Firestone Park is now a vibrant shopping and eating area, and the stores are all filled. It used to be an empty, forlorn piece of land on the edge of town. 
  3. A local real estate developer offers free rent for a year to entrepreneurs who don’t have the wherewithal to get started. This is a town that believes entrepreneurs are the new inventors and innovators.
  4. One local woman donated 4 million dollars to the park for perpetuity. The park is done, with 6 waterfalls. It was a muddy hole in the ground a year ago. This park is located one block from downtown. Now visitors can eat, drink, shop and relax in this welcoming park.
  5. Columbiana was nominated by a citizen as the Nicest Place in Ohio. It was a contest where people had to vote to win. During every summer and fall event there were booths set up in the middle of the party where people could vote for their town. They did win the title Nicest Place in Ohio. Then they went on to be judged by a panel for the nicest place in America. They won that too! https://www.rd.com/nicest-places-contest/
  6. Hallmark voted Columbiana the 19th nicest place to celebrate Christmas.
  7. TOP 10 Advertising voted Birdfish Brewing Co. as the seventh best bar and pub in Northeast Ohio. Dutch Haus Bakery is #1 bakery and Salon Anthurium made top #1 salon. The salon just recently opened, and their loyal customers brought them to first place.

This community took to heart all the conversations Deb started when she asked them what they wanted. One suggestion was to take pride in their town. They now realize they are responsible for sharing that pride with others. The townspeople are actively involved in their community, and make the magic happen. 

Welcome to Columbiana, an Idea Friendly Town.

Shop Indie Local


It’s called the Shop Indie Local campaign and it encourages you to take a step toward strengthening your own local economy. We shoppers collectively spend a large part of our annual shopping budget between November 1 and December 31.

What if you shifted your shopping dollars to your locally owned, independent businesses?

Every dollar spent at a local, independent business returns 2-3 times more to be re-spent in the community compared to a dollar spent at a non-local business. With consumers reporting that they will spend an average $1,007 for holiday shopping this year, according to the National Retail Federation, a shift to local purchases represents a significant contribution to local jobs and taxes.

Holiday season is “make or break time” for many local businesses. These businesses matter to all of us, not just in value but also in civic and economic benefits they provide. Shopping Indie just makes sense.

A single merchant has limited ability to shift attitudes or consumer spending, but by building strength in numbers, we can create broad support for independent business locally and advocate for their interests.

Plaid Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cider Monday

What if you shopped on Plaid Friday? It’s a fun and enjoyable alternative to the big box store “Black Friday” consumer frenzy. Also, it’s a way to show your support for our local economy. So plan to wear PLAID all day on November 29th!

Or how about Cider Monday? That’s not a typo!  Instead of Cyber Monday, a day when online merchants offer special deals, we invite you to a new tradition, CIDER MONDAY.  Willard Williams of the Toadstool Bookshops in Keene, Peterborough and Milford New Hampshire dreamed up Cider Monday as an antidote to Cyber Monday.

He shares, “Stop in for a free cup, maybe a snack, see some real people and have a good time checking out what’s in our stores. It’s sure to be a heartwarming experience.  We can promise no crashing websites, our ‘servers’ won’t be overloaded, and we bet they will even smile at you!”

You’re probably familiar with Small Business Saturday and this year it is November 30. It’s another opportunity to support your local economy and do some of your shopping at home.

Thank you for supporting your local economy, it matters.





Let go of those whose mind you cannot change


You know them.  They say things like “that will never work here”and “we tried that before and it didn’t work.”

It can be difficult to reason with that group of people, referred to as ‘the committee of negativity’.  Nothing you say will be taken seriously.  There’s an argument for every reason you give. There’s examples for them too.  If you continue to hang around with this committee you might just find yourself one of its members.

I have a solution.

Let the committee of negativity meet somewhere else.

Let them follow their own path. You don’t need to travel on it too.  It’s easy to say “no thank you.”

Start gathering your own crowd, surround yourself with people who are more positive.

Find those people that want to do things, that want change for the better, that are already doing things.

Look for:

  • store owners who do fun and new things in their stores.  Is their window changed often?  Are they online doing promotions too?  Do they smile and greet you when you walk into their establishment?  Chances are they are someone you should know better.
  • letter to the editor writers who send thank letters instead of complaint letters.  See how they notice when someone is doing good?  Learn from them, gratitude goes a long way.
  • city council members/government people who sharing exciting new ideas.  Fixing up the old parks, wanting to have more events, hosting ‘get to know me’ meetings, are visible in the community — these are just a few clues they may be part of your crowd.
  • volunteers who are happy.  The next event in town you go to, look for the happy people.  Those that are excited to be helping, and are genuinely happy to be there.  They can introduce you to more of their kind of people – the happy ones.

“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” William Shakespeare said it well.  You choose your outcomes.  You can make choices that will change your course.  I’ve chosen to be relentlessly optimistic, to stand with a crowd that wants to see good things happen, to see our small towns renewed and growing.

We eat in small towns

We do eat in small towns. We don’t meet if we don’t eat! Church potlucks, fundraisers of all sorts, events downtown – you’ll often find food on the menu of activities. Many communities have unique kinds of food that you can find in their areas.


dinner with RuralX folksChislic is a traditional dish of cubed meat commonly found in South Dakota.

I had this wonderful dish, made from lamb and spiced with garlic and who knows what, at dinner during the RuralX Conference. Freeman, SD hosts an annual Chislic festival (it’s July 27th this year). http://www.experiencefreemansd.com/south-dakota-chislic-festival


One day at Rural X we had lunch provided by the Sioux Chef.

Sean Sherman, Oglala Lakota, born in Pine Ridge, SD, has been cooking across the US and World for the last 30 years.  His main culinary focus has been on the revitalization and awareness of indigenous foods systems in a modern culinary context. We were served cedar braised bison, wild greens salad with berry sauce, maple roasted squash, wild rice cakes, sun butter cookies, wild game stew and cedar maple tea. I ate everything, and it was delicious! http://sioux-chef.com/


The World Championship Goat Cook-off is held in Brady, Texas every year.

You can go Labor Day weekend for the 46th year. Brady is only 5,300 people yet they have 206 teams that come (and a 90-team waiting list) and over 10,000 people come to town. For goat. http://www.worldchampionshipgoatcookoff.com/


Olean, MO has the Testicle Festival and Highwood, IL has the Garlic Fest. Then there’s the Eelpout Festival in Walker, MN. Fall festivals abound and feature apples, pumpkins, squash and more. Look for Enchanted Acres in Sheffield, Iowa and National Apple Harvest Festival in Biglerville, PA. Plenty of nuts out there too. Groves Pecan Festival in Groves, TX and you can find chestnuts roasting on an open fire at the Chestnut Festival in Rowlesburg, West Virginia.


We eat in small towns.

In fact, we eat and party around food in small towns. For many towns, these events are the highlight of the year and helps to bring tourists to town. Can you create a festival in your town around food? Of course, you can. Start the Idea Friendly way.

  1. Choose a food (Big Idea)
  2. Invite people you know and tell them to bring chairs (Gather Your Crowd)
  3. Prepare the food, have your crowd help, and serve it in the park, or your backyard, or on the sidewalk downtown!  (Take Small Steps)
  4. Repeat next year and invite more people.


It really can be that simple.  

Brady, Texas festival started with 16 teams who wanted to raise money for the County Jaycees. The 130 people in Olean, Mo started 25 years ago cooking testicles as a community event. Today over 2,000 people come to town. Most of these food festivals do start that way – as a community event. It’s a time to have a little fun, eat good food and raise some money for something. They weren’t thinking about ‘how can we make this a bigger event.’ We know that community happens when people talk to each other, and food is a great conversation starter.

Human Behavior and the Idea Friendly Method

How does Human Behavior affect how we use the Idea Friendly Method?

The Idea Friendly Method is simply stated as

  • You find your Big Idea and
  • Gather Your Crowd around accomplishing that idea,
  • You turn that crowd into a powerful network and Build Connections and then
  • You and the crowd take Small Steps to accomplish your big idea.

We use this method at SaveYour.Town to help small towns step into their greatness and make opportunities available for more people to participate.

Are we all sheep now? But what about human behavior and the way people are? Can we use the Idea Friendly Method more often? Will human behavior stop us?

According to behavioreconomics.com, the three laws of human behavior are:

  1. People tend to stick to the status quo unless the forces of friction or fuel push us them off their path;
  2. behavior is a function of the person and their environment;
  3. every decision includes tradeoffs and the potential for unintended consequences.

The Idea Friendly Method addresses the first law.

Most plans for towns are created by a few, in a backroom, with no input from the community until it is all done. The plan is so huge, there is no room for failure. This has been the status quo and this behavior worked in the past. It no longer works today. With the advent of technology, and access to it for more people, the forces of friction are at work in your town. Most of us want to see our towns thrive, grow into the future and be the kind of place we want to live. A place where we have choices and we get to try out our ideas. Those wishes, thriving, growing into the future and implementing ideas, are the fuel that helps us to push the status quo off it’s path.

Rule number 2 finds us in a sticky situation.

We are in between the Old Way of doing things and the Idea Friendly way of doing them. Are you willing to be one of the people who help change your environment? Do you wish to have a town that is forward looking and a place for your kids and grandkids to grow up in? These two questions lead us to think about our environment. You have a direct effect on your environment. If you accept the status quo, your environment will not change. Being in the middle at this time in the world offers us the opportunity to choose, willingly, which Way we want to be. Then we change the status quo or we stay in it.

The third rule is addressed by the Idea Friendly Method too.

By taking small steps the exposure to failure is reduced. If we do fail, it’s not a loss. It’s an opportunity to change it, fix it or let it go.  Exposure to small successes propels us forward with even more energy.

You also have the opportunity to involve many people making the decisions, trying out their ideas in a small way. That’s the first step in Idea Friendly, gathering your crowd. You simply share your big idea and invite a crowd to join you in accomplishing it.  It’s an easier way to accomplish your big goals by doing so with your friends and people who think like you.

The final step is Building Connections.

It’s the point in working on your big idea where you begin to ask questions that start with ‘who do you know that’. Building this powerful network becomes a joyful action, instead of counting on the six men in the backroom being the decision makers.

We know that community happens when people talk to each other. We know human behavior can be changed by conversations.

We know many towns are becoming Idea Friendly. Will you be one of them?


Want a coffee shop? Start small

Brandon and Alicia had this idea that the old bank building they own just might a good coffee shop with WiFi. They looked at prices for all the equipment, got ideas for other vendors to go into the location, and started planning big.

But how do they know it will even work as a coffee shop?

I encouraged them to slow down and take some small steps first. Try it out. See if there is a product and a market.

Gather Your Crowd

They talked with a few friends and decided to offer coffee a couple of days a week during the month of May. Both of them work during the day and they can make the coffee and get everything set up.

Build Connections

They would need help from someone just to be in the space. At a public meeting they asked if anyone wanted to come sit in the cafe for a couple of hours. Volunteers lined up to make it happen! They are also using mobile hotspots from the local library during this test phase.

Take Small Steps

Now during the month of May they will be open from 9 am to noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays
. So people can come by and get a cup of coffee, free will donation. This time frame will allow them to see if it’s a good time for a coffee shop. Maybe they will need to adjust to later hours. They’ll try different coffees, see what people like. These small steps are much more cost effective for a trial and will give them valuable research into creating their business.

That’s how you start a cafe with WiFi the Idea Friendly way.

Say Thank You

Support your businesses with a thank you. A small group of us stopped in to the Pancake House in Paulding, Ohio just to tell them thank you! They are more than a pancake house, they serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. And they are local business owners providing a much-needed service in your community.

I get asked often about how we can get our communities more supportive of the local businesses. It starts with small steps, just like this. Be thankful. Say it out loud. Have no agenda with your thanks either.

We know for sure community happens when people talk to each other. Start with a simple thank you.

Paint the Streets in Your Small Town

Arts R Alive, a local group in the small town of Webster City, Iowa, bring sculptures to West Twin Park. They together in 2015 and thought it might be fun to paint the streets as a way to do a little fund raising.  18 x 18 squares were laid out, businesses and organizations were invited to buy a square and come down and paint.  The funds raised went for the long term care of West Twin Park where the Sculpture Contest is held. The painted street borders the park.

The Mayor had leftover paint from clean up day that first year.  A truckload of leftover paint would’ve cost thousands of dollars to take to the landfill.  What a great way to use the old paint! He brought some of it down for the painters to use, at no charge.

Check out the short video the Chamber of Commerce created off some of the work and imagine what your town could put together if you decided to paint the streets!

Weed Whackers and Window Cleaner Ninja

I visited Roscommon County, Michigan and toured a few empty buildings.  On one corner, a major intersection into town, there was an empty building on each corner.  We talked about building possibility, working with the county and the town and hosting a tour.

Next to one of the buildings that needed to be torn down  was an old restaurant, still in operation.  The entrance everyone uses is on the back side by the parking lot.  However, the front side is what visitors see.  It is full of weeds and the windows are dirty.  I suggested the committee get together in the early morning light, bring their weed whackers and window cleaners, and take an hour to clean it up.

Then they could send a nice letter to the owner thanking him for keeping a long standing business open and being a part of the community.  Business owners are busy people and sometimes things fall through the cracks.  No need to remind him of that, he knows.  What he doesn’t hear often enough is “thank you”.  

Do you have location in your neck of the woods that needs a Ninja team?

Using the Entire Town to Fundraise

Akron, Iowa has a big idea of building an aquatic center. They knew it would cost a lot of money. They will write grants and apply for different kinds of funding. However, without full support of the community, those requests won’t go very far. 

Some of the small steps they are taking to raise funds and involve the community are:

  • 2 National Honor students went to the elementary grades and started a penny war between classes. The winning class got a popcorn party and a pool party (at their current pool). A penny party is when students bring in their pennies, and the class with the most pennies wins.
  • The mayor and her assistant went to two 8th grade classes and explained the aquatic center project. Their teacher introduced coursework that involves  presenting a plan to the swimming pool committee. The class members will be divided into groups of 3 and the best plan from each class will be selected. The goal is that the best plans will bring in $1000 to give to the aquatic center project. (I did suggest they use all the plans!)
  • A few ladies downtown got together and held a Spook Spectacular.  They had about 250 pumpkins donated. They set up various sized tables so young people as well as adults could decorate pumpkins.  The decorated pumpkins were placed all over town! Plus they had children’s games, free s’mores in the shapes of pumpkins, ghosts, etc. There was also a food truck, plus free hot chocolate. Then at 6:30 they had a movie at the opera house for kids, all part of their swimming pool fund raising activities.
  • The City of Akron Pool Committee hosted Wreaths for a Reason, a wreath silent auction. Each individual, community organization, church, business, etc., was asked to decorate and donate a wreath. Another fundraiser for the pool.

They continue to raise money, from literally pennies to thousands of dollars in ways that everyone can participate in. No idea is too small, or too ‘incorrect’. All the ideas are accepted, and everyone that can participates. 

There’s been no giant committee organizing everything. There’s no permissions you have to get granted. The committee of negativity is being ignored. And excitement grows!