Struggling to grow your business? It may be time to reassess your town’s business district


Those applying to Main Street America must demonstrate a need by showing things like a significant vacancy rate and deterioration of buildings.

A Google search for promotional ideas for business district reveals the fact that a large number of the most active communities have one thing in common: they are past or present participants in Main Street America. This program was started in 1980 as part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and focuses on older downtowns. To date Main Street has helped revitalize over 2,000 rural and urban communities.

The Main Street Approach, according to their website, is centered around Transformation Strategies. A Transformation Strategy is a focused path to revitalizing or strengthening a downtown or commercial district’s economy organized around four points: Economic Vitality, Design, Promotion, and Organization. A solid understanding of local and regional market data and sustained, inclusive community engagement are key elements of the program’s success.

Being selected for the Main Street program is competitive and requires a long-term commitment by the public and private sector. The focus of the program is, as the name implies, helping communities with a recognizable downtown area or commercial district. Those applying must demonstrate a need by showing a significant vacancy rate (sadly not a problem in many areas), deterioration of buildings, and difficulties attracting a viable mix of businesses.

Although the Main Street program within each community is volunteer driven, many towns have a full-time paid director to handle the day-to-day management. While this adds significantly to the cost, it is essential in making the most of volunteer time and involving all the stakeholders.

Those who participate in the program receive access to resources that have proven successful across the country. There are education and training programs, as well as opportunities to network with others doing similar work. The goal of the program is preservation-based economic development, bringing communities together to bring vitality back downtown. If you think this might work in your town, most states have a local office of coordinating programs where you can get more information.

Even if your community is not selected, you may still benefit. One of the tenets of the Main Street program is that its members must commit to training and sharing downtown revitalization information with communities that do not participate. This kind of cooperation and shared support make us all stronger.

Editor’s note: Carol Schroeder is a columnist for sister publication Gifts & Decorative Accessories, the author of Specialty Shop Retailing and co-owner of Orange Tree Imports.


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