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April 11, 2012

Main Street pioneer advances in contest

Mark Plessinger only has one employee working for him, but he indirectly has helped create hundreds of retail jobs on Columbia’s Main Street over the past five years.

Plessinger was an urban pioneer when he opened Frame of Mind – an eyeglass-and-art-store hybrid – across the street from the Columbia Museum of Art in 2007, at a time when few retailers were located on Main.

Now, he is trying to take his story national to inspire other small business owners to do the same. Plessinger is competing for the top prize in the National Retail Federation’s “Retail Means Jobs” video campaign.

Plessinger’s video has made it to the Top 10 from the nearly 100 that were submitted to the contest. It currently is going head-to-head with a video about a used bookstore in Arizona. Voting ends Sunday. If Plessinger makes it to the Top 3, he will win a trip to Washington and a cash prize of $10,000, $15,000 or $25,000, depending on where he places.

A voiceover on Plessinger’s fast-paced, high-energy video says: “Retail, specifically Frame of Mind and the power of a small socially conscious business, has an impact far bigger than the money it brings in. It drives job creation. It opens doors for other retail and businesses to move into the Main Street community. It draws people in from other parts of the city, the state and even other states. Simply put, retail powers our community.”

Plessinger sells eyeglass frames that he sees as wearable art, and he showcases local art inside his store. Four years ago, he started a monthly art celebration on Main Street, held on the first Thursday of each month, that has blossomed into an event that attracts 1,500-plus visitors.

The event became a key part of Main Street’s redevelopment over the past few years, featuring a thriving arts corridor and new businesses including Mast General Store and Cowboy Brazilian Steakhouse, as well as smaller retailers.

It was a combination of what Plessinger sells and his contribution to the community that helped propel him to the top of the pack in the National Retail Federation’s contest, organizers said.

“Mark actually stood out right from the beginning because it’s a product that actually has more than just a single purpose. His store also serves multiple purposes,” said federation spokeswoman Kathy Grannis. “He has turned his passion for retail and art all into one great story.”

The contest was a way to promote retail as a career and boost the industry’s profile with Congress and around the country, while seeking out the best retail story, Grannis said. “By the end of this video contest, we’ll have three brand-new faces of retail.”

If Plessinger wins this week’s face-off, he will compete among five finalists for one of the top three spots in another round of online voting (at

Plessinger said he will invest the cash prize back into the community if he wins. He already has plans for a Fourth of July celebration that he hopes to grow from a one-day event this year into a 10-day-long, citywide arts celebration in the future.

“We have been a business that has been about the community since Day 1,” he said. “I’m banking on Main Street. (It is) the heart of any city.”

Watch the video

Cast your vote at the Retail Means Jobs web site:

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