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A crowd gathers at a high school in Cañon City to hear the results of the Deluxe Corporation’s Small Business Revolution contest. (Sue McMillin, Special to The Colorado Sun)

CAÑON CITY — The #mycanoncity fever rising in this Arkansas River town got splashed with cold water Tuesday evening when residents gathered in the high school auditorium learned they lost a small-town makeover competition to Searcy, Arkansas.

The bleachers in the Cañon City High School gymnasium filled with a hopeful crowd Tuesday evening as they awaited the announcement of the winner of the Small Business Revolution — Main Street competition.

Economic Development Director Ryan Stevens and Mayor Preston Troutman thanked them for their support as they awaited the live Facebook feed.

After a few brief remarks about the contest, Amanda Brinkman announced that Searcy, Arkansas, had won — and the Cañon City crowd applauded politely.

But they rose to their feet and applauded loudly when a disappointed Stevens walked up and said a little shakily, “That’s a hard act to follow.”

MORE: Cañon City is looking for a makeover to become a destination, not just a drive-through prison town

Stevens said voters from 4,100 cities and all 50 states had hit the votecanoncity website during the week of voting.

“The buzz that’s going on right  now is great,” he said. “We need to keep it going.”

Cañon City has struggled in recent years to attract visitors headed to the Royal Gorge or nearby trails for hiking and mountain biking to stop in the so-called prison town.

The other finalists were Camas, Washington; Corsicana, Texas; Durant, Oklahoma; and Washington, North Carolina.

The finalists first got the nod from a panel of judges who sifted through thousands of entries from all 50 states to make the top 20 of those bidding to be featured on Hulu in season four of Deluxe Corp.’s Small Business Revolution – Main Street.

The journey began in October when Stevens nominated the town to be featured in the show, which evolved when Deluxe Corp. celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2015 by featuring 100 small business across the country. That’s when the company decided that small towns needed resources if their main streets were to survive.  

After a little pep talk about Cañon City’s assets, Stevens reminded people to attend the Deluxe marketing seminar in May, and vowed that the city would continue to seek ways to help local businesses.

“Let me know what you need,” he said.

Ashlee Sack with Fremont Adventure Recreation was slightly downcast and she removed balloons from the railings and handed them to children.

” We have a lot of ideas,” she said. “It will take work and money.

“We’re going to have to keep the spirit alive.”

She believes Cañon City is on the cusp of doing great things, and believes the competition helped bring people together.

Troutman agreed.

“This will become part of the history of Cañon City,” he said of the competition.

“I’ve been here 45 years and I’ve never seen the businesses get together like they have through this.”

He said the city has a lot going on and will continue to make progress, slowly but surely. There will be new signs, work on the riverfront and other projects.

“We’ve got to recognize what we’ve got,” he said, ticking off a list including the Arkansas River, a solid downtown, the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park and strong leadership with good ideas.

Oh, and the tilde.  “It was hidden in plain sight,” he said with a chuckle.

Another review left Cañon City standing in the top 10, which brought a visit from the show, including marketing expert Amanda Brinkman, to make a promotional video. Small Business Revolution staff also were watching the town’s social media action to see how it promoted itself.

Then it made the top six — it had been a final top five in previous seasons, but apparently things were too close to leave any of the finalists out.

Public online voting led to Tuesday’s outcome.

After making the finals, Cañon City officials, business owners and outdoor enthusiasts said they believed being in the competition gave the town a boost that will help it keep moving forward, regardless of whether it won.

The winning town gets another visit from the show to select six businesses that will get resources and a marketing makeover. Other business also can benefit from the expertise and ideas that will be shared with the town as they film the episodes for the show.

Stevens remarked earlier in February that the winning town must keep the momentum going after the “cameras go home” to make lasting change.

For making it to the finals, Cañon City also will be the beneficiary of a Deluxe Corp. marketing seminar in May at the Abbey Event Complex. The free, one-day seminar will allow business owners to hear from experts on topics such as getting online locally, enhancing sales and marketing tools, leveraging customer experience to improve websites and building a budget, according to the Deluxe website.

Previous winners of the competition are:

Season 1 – Wabash, Indiana

Season 2 – Bristol Borough, Pennsylvania

Season 3 – Alton, Illinois.

The shows can be viewed on the Small Business Revolution website.

Sue McMillin

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @suemcmillin