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Attracting customers to Leesburg—there’s an app for that

Cherian Thomas, co-founder of Spotluck, explains the branding opportunities the app brings to downtown Leesburg businesses. Times-Mirror/Anna Harris
In recent years, businesses in downtown Leesburg have struggled to keep up with developments like Village at Leesburg and One Loudoun. But a new app and a newly formed local business coalition could give the historic area the boost it needs.

Village at Leesburg and One Loudoun in Ashburn have taken a good chunk of foot traffic from downtown, decreasing business overall by around 35 percent, Bryan Crosswhite, owner of the Cajun Experience in Leesburg, said.

“It's killing us,” he said.

A meeting held by the Town of Leesburg on bolstering the downtown left businesses frustrated; it was about developers, not business.

“We could have really done something to really affect businesses in downtown, and it turned out to be some development thing,” Crosswhite said. “We were just a little frustrated about it.”

He commented on that frustration on an online forum, and other businesses chimed in. “Someone said, 'Bryan, why don't you just host a meeting, and I was like 'OK.'”

Nils Schnibbe, co-owner of MacDowell Brew Kitchen, recommended some dates and Lightfoot offered its space for the meeting.

“We just wanted to do it independently,” Crosswhite said. Twenty-seven businesses showed up at the meeting held earlier this month.

The businesses were separated into three break-outs: restaurant, retail and marketing. Restaurants and retail were given the job of coming up with solutions for their own sector while the media and marketing companies in downtown were tasked with ways to bring it together as a brand.

The group made some ground rules for that and future meetings, namely government officers and town council members were excluded.

Crosswhite stressed it wasn't meant to be a slap in the face to the town. “We've done it by ourselves without any money from the ADC and without asking the town for anything … I don't want to rely on politicians to make decisions,” he said.

On top of events to attract people, the restauranteurs reached out to the D.C.-based app Spotluck and its creators as part of their solution.

The app, designed by Cherian Thomas and Brad Sayler, uses a spinning dial the mobile user presses to randomly choose a local restaurant to visit within 20 miles of that user's current location.

Users only get one spin per day, and by using the app they might get a 10 percent or 30 percent discount, depending on the time of day and the weather. The discounts act as incentives to keep people interested and further drive traffic to businesses during non-peak hours.

Retailers get a leg-up too, as the foot traffic that comes to the community for food can easily visit the store next door, either prompted by restaurant owners or even a pop-up ad on the app.

The developers work with interested local communities to form hubs, but only if enough restaurants want to commit.

Spotluck is waiving the app for downtown Leesburg businesses, at least until February, as the community is smaller than Georgetown in D.C. or Frederick, Md.

Around 15 restaurant owners who attended an Oct. 22 meeting were interested in bringing Spotluck to Leesburg.

“It looks like we have a hub, no doubt,” said Thomas. “It's the right thing to do for the community.”

“We just have the tech that connects the two dots,” he said of Spotluck's role in businesses efforts.

“This will drive business back down from the Village [at Leesburg],” Crosswhite said. “We're bringing up the competitive level to what these major brands have, we're just using Spotluck as that mechanism to level the playing field.”

Follow Anna Harris on Twitter.


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