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By MARK EVANS
STE. GENEVIEVE HERALD
Ste. Genevieve County commissioners met with Aaron Smith, new Ste. Genevieve tourism director during last Thursday’s commission meeting.
Happy Welch, city administrator, took Welch to the meeting and introduced him to the commissioners, Randy Ruzicka, Karen Stuppy and Mark Marberry, as well as Associate Clerk Michele Gatzemeyer.
Smith had assumed duties the first of the week, as the fourth tourism director since Sandra Cabot left in November 2019.
Smith, who just completed his Master’s degree in marketing, has plenty of business experience. He was the founding director of Villa Anita Inc. in Tecopa, Calif, and owner of Art to Geaux in Baton Rouge, and was the material planner for the Shaw Group.
Ruzicka asked Smith what his plans were.
Smith indicated he would be learning the town and figuring out what works and what doesn’t.
“What I’m kind of seeing is just a disconnect between different pieces of the town’s tourism puzzle,” he said, “and it’s going to be a lot of listening, a lot of just finding out everything that we have to offer and then seeing how do we effectively use everything that we have to get the right sort of people into Ste. Gen.”
One thing he doesn’t want to do is overwhelm the town. Considering its size and infrastructure, he said he feels that “going for quality” over quantity would be the idea.
“I think we can bring in a certain quality of tourists that have a good bit of money, bringing their little families along, that sort of thing,” he said, “and just keep the complexion of Ste. Gen the same, but increase the marketing value.”
One thing he want to do is see “more consistent foot traffic” and to take better advantage of special events.
“When we have events, instead of it just being a very singular sort of thing, how do we make people stay for the weekend and spend more money in Ste. Gen?” he said.
Ruzicka suggested getting shopkeepers engaged.
“They have things and then people come here and think, ‘What a beautiful little town, but I walked down the street and everything was closed.’”
Smith called it “a weird chicken/egg problem” for shop owners, who hate to spent hours of time and money, sitting in shops with no street traffic, but missing out on business and possible repeat customers when closed.
“It’s going to take some time to figure out how to address that,” Smith said. “But yeah, it’s a unique problem.”
“If the numbers are there, maybe that will change their perception and maybe they’ll keep those doors open,” Gatzemeyer suggested.
Smith said he and his wife are buying a house on Eighth Street. They are expecting their first child in April.
“So, I’ll be walking around on the weekends, and even during the day,” he said. “I feel like for a town this size, I mean, you’ve got to be in the community.”
He noted that Ste. Genevieve competes against a handful of “cute little towns” in the St. Louis region, like St. Charles, Kimmswick and to a lesser degree, Washington, Mo., and Alton, Ill.
Stuppy noted that Jefferson County towns are “upping their game,” as well, such as in downtown Festus.
“I think we’re going to have to be unique in that regard,” Smith said. “So you’ve got to know what the community is, because it’s all about the people that live here when it comes to that.”
Promoting the town’s artistic community, its history and the potential eco tourism should be priorities,” he said.
Ruzicka noted that, like him, “people generally fall in love with this town when they come here.”
They agreed that getting some of the visitors to move here is another important step.
“It’d be nice to get some younger families in here,” Smith said, “and I think that’s something we can address through tourism, because you get people in to see and they go, ‘Oh, well, I have a remote job. I can move my family out there. I could do that’. And we could have younger people.”