Sometimes you just need a fresh set of eyes.

Sometimes you just need a fresh set of eyes.

That’s advice that business owners are often given—walk into your store, restaurant, fitness center, whatever kind of business relies on customers and prospective customers walking in the door—and try to see it for the first time.

What needs to be cleaned up? What needs to be repaired? What needs a fresh coat of paint? What shouldn’t even be there? What’s missing? How do I feel when I first see the business?

When it’s your own, you maybe don’t see it clearly. It’s the way it is and it’s okay. You really need a fresh set of eyes looking at your place.

That’s why Ron Drake has been invited to come to Sleepy Eye. He’s going to look at our downtown area and see it for the first time. A fresh set of eyes.

Drake is a community restoration consultant who focuses on downtown revitalization. His book, “Flip This Town” tells the story of his restoration work in downtown Siloam Springs, Ark., where he lives, and how what he learned in the process can be used in small towns everywhere.

In a recent phone conversation, Drake was asked if he’d done any research on Sleepy Eye. “Not really,” he said. “I don’t want to come with any pre-conceived ideas. I bring a fresh set of eyes.”

In his work in his own town and in the other communities, Drake has realized a vital thing about small town residents. “America wants our downtowns back,” he said.

Even to those who are fairly new to Sleepy Eye, it is evident that downtown was once a bustling place. Why else all the beautiful old buildings? The founding business people put a lot of money into creating a place they where proud to invite their customers to patronize.

In this writer’s childhood, downtown Sleepy Eye was a bustling retail center. There were a couple department stores, five hardware stores, two drug stores, a dime store, a furniture store, a shoe store, two bakeries, a dairy and the usual assortment of banks, insurance agencies and real estate offices. Those just a bit older also remember a couple of small grocery stores downtown.

What happened?

The way people shopped changed, that’s what happened. It became common to get in the car and drive to a shapping mall or big box store in another town. Shopping turned into entertainment. Slowly the retail businesses in downtown Sleepy Eye dwindled.

We still have several strong retail stores in Sleepy Eye. But it is true that downtown could use some love . . . and some hard work and investment.

Drake will be in Sleepy Eye Monday through Wednesday, April 9 to 11. Christina Andres has set up a couple of meetings, at Drake’s request, with groups of people—those with a vested interest in downtown; policy makers and community leaders; bankers and realtors; and students. In addition, Drake will spend time Monday and Tuesday walking around downtown, visiting businesses and looking at building with EDA Coordinator, Kurk Kramer.

Drake said restoration projects are not just physical, he recognizes they are also psychological. “We need to change the mindset of how people see their town. It’s about showing communities it’s possible,” said Drake. “There are people that want to do things in the community—they just don’t know how. I want them to hear me and say, ‘I’m ready, this guy knows how it’s done, I’m ready’.”

At the end of Drake’s visit, the entire community is invited to attend his community presentation, 7 p.m. on April 11 at the Event Center.

Come and learn what’s possible for Sleepy Eye.