It started in a bar – Whiskey Bar Kitchen, to be exact.
Local billboard broker Stuart Rayburn stopped in, expecting lunch. He left with an idea to help small businesses in downtown Augusta.
Sitting nearby at lunch that day were Kimberly Beasley of Curvitude Boutique on Broad Street and Karen Gordon of Garden City Jazz.
“I overheard them talking about the need for a downtown map,” said Rayburn, the owner of Billboard Guru. “I had been thinking about it for awhile. Downtown could and should be like an outdoor walking mall. We talked about it for about an hour. I decided, I’ll put my money up. I’ll put my time into this. I believe in it.”
The first edition of the map, released in March, highlights restaurants, nightlife, family entertainment, retail shops, parking and ATMs from Riverwalk Augusta to Ellis Street and Fifth to 13th streets.
“We wanted it centered around the downtown area,” Rayburn said. “We want people to think about it as a place they can come and meander.”
The map has been distributed at nearly 50 downtown restaurants and shops.
“We promised to print 20,000. We printed 24,000,” Rayburn said.
Copies are flying off hostess stands and counters.
“It’s a great piece of literature,” Beasley said. “I have a lot of people come through who want to know what to do and where to go. As soon as I hand them the map, that’s the answer.”
A fall 2013 downtown walking map is due out in September. Rayburn expects to print 30,000 copies that will be distributed to an additional 75 sites.
Each map includes more than two dozen ads from local businesses, a self-guided walking tour, a list of downtown events and information on how to deal with panhandlers.
From its inception, the map has been a collaborative effort, Rayburn said.
The idea came from Gordon and Beasley, current and former board members of the Downtown Augusta Alliance. Local artist Gabe Marshall designed the map. And Rebecca Rogers of the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area and Erick Montgomery of Historic Augusta proofed it.
“Everybody who cares about downtown is doing what we can to promote downtown,” Rayburn said. “We all want to see downtown develop as an economic center and tourism magnet.”