“LOOK AT YOUR watch,” emcee Mat Faulkner said to the hundreds gathered in Harding University’s auditorium. “What time is it?”
If people were anxious about the hour, obsessively checking their watches, waiting for 6:30 p.m., it was understandable. By this moment—the evening of Feb. 26—they’d been waiting for months. They’d waited through a long string of rallies and watch parties, each one bigger than the last, that stretched through the winter months, well past the end of high school football and holiday festivities. They’d waited as the prospect of winning became increasingly plausible.
Tonight, the town of nearly 24,000 would find out if they’d landed a spot on Small Business Revolution, a Hulu series that spotlights one small town per season and, drawing on a pot of $500,000, offers makeovers to six small businesses.
But first, they had to wait a little longer.
Just three more minutes.
Of course, the efforts to get Searcy this far—to have made it to the top six finalists from an initial nomination pool of 12,000 towns—had been a community effort, but you had to wonder: What was it about this competition that had lit this all-but-unprecedented fire under Searcy?
It was the same question that the man at the mic, Mat Faulkner—head of Think Idea Studio, the local marketing firm that had coordinated much of the #MySearcy campaign—had pondered a few months before. On Dec. 2, 2018, just a few weeks after Searcy residents had learned they’d made the top 20, he’d written a long Facebook post that asked: “Everyone knows only six businesses are chosen for the makeovers, not everyone can make it on the show, … so why is everyone trying so hard?”
In part, he wrote, it was because the town was tapping into fundamental religious principles of the importance of loving your neighbor, serving one another and thinking on what is good. However, as far as he was concerned, this was just the beginning: “[Let] this experience be deeper and longer lasting than when the money runs out and the episodes go to reruns. Let our revolution be something with lasting substance and character. I believe we can do it.”
Suffice it to say, to see the crowd that February night, it seemed fair to say he’d been right.
At 6:31 p.m., following a chant of “we believe that we will win,” the lights abruptly went down, and a woman with short, platinum-blonde hair appeared on the screen above the stage.
She introduced herself as Amanda Brinkman, but of course everyone knew that already. After noting that 1.6 million votes were cast for the final towns, Amanda continued: “We wish all six towns could win. But as all of you know, only one town can win a half-million-dollar investment from Deluxe and be featured in season 4 of the Small Business Revolution. We encourage the remaining five to use the momentum you’ve created—you have the leadership in place and the small business-owners in town to propel you even further.”
“So now, after 12,000 nominations, months of online sharing, an epic road trip and a hard-fought [race], we are so excited to share that the winner of the The Small Business Revolution, Season 4, is … Searcy, Arkansas.”
At that point, the lights came on, and there, standing onstage in a pair of neon-range Converse sneakers, a flurry of confetti fluttering about her head, was the very same Amanda Brinkman.
After nearly three minutes of unbroken cheers—with cowbells clanging and a steady stream of confetti blanketing the sea of handwritten posters—Amanda finally got a word in edgewise. Bending down close to the microphone, arms outstretched, she said: “Searcy, Arkansas.”
“You guys did it,” she said, nearly breathless. “Oh my gosh, you guys did this. This is unbelievable.” After giving a brief recap, she continued, “You have so much to be proud of—the way you have rallied together, not just in the last two weeks, in the last four months, to get to this point.”
“I’m not your mom,” Amanda said in closing a few minutes later, “but I sure am proud of you.”
And y’know what? She’s not alone.
Out of 215 small businesses that applied, six snagged spots on the show. But in true #MySearcy fashion, the town raised funds for another six makeovers.