Downtown’s Creative District: The Connect Agency

There’s a flourishing district within a district in our Downtown that you may not be aware of. A creative cluster of marketing agencies, photography and illustration studios and design firms has sprung up within The Elbow, Downtown’s nightlife and entertainment district.

One staple of this creative district is The Connect Agency, owned and operated by veteran marketer and DVI board member, John Ream. Take some time to talk to John about his Downtown experience and you’ll learn that his slice of Downtown—a beautiful brick building along Bay Street—has proven just as flexible as his agency’s approach to marketing and communications solutions.

John bought the building in 2005 at 131 E. Bay Street, during the excitement and anticipation leading up to the Super Bowl. Looking past the plaster walls, drop down ceilings and green shag carpet while touring the space, he was drawn to the brick walls, wooden beams and floors that lay beneath. Creative by nature, he envisioned what the space could become. And, during the Super Bowl, John sold barbeque, beer and wine out of the first floor to help generate revenue for the renovations.

For three years, John and his family lived in the contemporary, urban space. For a time he rented out the first floor to a shop called Foolish Boutique, which operates nowadays as Icon Boutique just three blocks away. Living Downtown, John would bump into all kinds of activities. “Until you live here, you don’t know all there is to do,” he says. And as someone who enjoys exploring, the lively lifestyle was a perfect fit.

In 2009, John formed his own marketing agency and reinvented the space to house his office. Specializing in strategy and a client-customized approach, John looks to the creative district and Downtown environment to keep his ideas fresh. A short walk to one of the cultural venues, like Southlight Gallery, to take in some art provides a fresh perspective. A lunchtime jog along the riverfront relieves stress. Being steps away from various Happy Hour options doesn’t hurt either.

And about working near other creative shops? He enjoys the all the shoptalk and believes sharing insights and trends helps to knock down silos in which firms often work. According to John, the Madison Avenue model of large advertising agencies is changing. Small shops like Connect Agency, and others in the creative district offer great flexibility, and “mind share” collaboration creates a better product for their clients.

John at work in his flexible, creative office space.

His clients are often surprised on their first trip to the agency: ‘They often say, “I never knew space like this existed Downtown.”’ They enjoy the energy and nostalgia of Downtown. They like the perks of a walkable business district, and the options of lunch places that you can’t find anywhere else, like Chomp Chomp.

With eight years of Downtown experience under his belt—as a Downtown property owner, small business owner and resident—John believes we’re on the cusp of something big. One key for Downtown’s success will be The Elbow, with its bars and restaurants and live music is creating a great entertainment culture Downtown. Another will be connecting all of the areas of activity. And at the end of the day, word-of-mouth marketing for Downtown, the kind we can all do, is crucial. “It takes the people who are already Downtown sharing their experiences to bring more people Downtown,” he says.

Stay tuned as we share more spotlights from the creative district, and help spread the word on Downtown by sharing your favorite experiences here.