We all know the few blocks that make up our rural Main Streets like the back of our hands, but do we know what they mean to the community and why they matter? Main Streets of our past bring a flood of nostalgic memories. These places are the traditional community center for social, cultural, and economic activity in our communities. Our Main Streets tell us so much about who we are and who we were, and how the past has shaped us. We do not go to urban hubs or enclosed shopping malls to learn about our past, explore our culture, or discover our identity. Our Main Streets are the places of shared memories where the entire community can still come together to live, work, and play.
So why does Main Street matter? When we talk about Main Street, we are thinking of real places doing real work. Some of our local Main Streets are thriving and some are struggling. But just like all things in our small communities; we cannot wait for Superman to fly in and save the day. The only way to revitalize our communities and preserve the character that has been passed down for generations is to come together and make it happen. Recently a group of Regional Economic Developers started the conversation of revitalizing our rural Main Streets and came up with their Top 5 picks of Why Main Street Matters:
- Main Street is the Front Porch of our Community – The goal is to create a positive and welcoming image that will renew community pride and tell your Main Street story to the surrounding region.
- Downtown Traffic Generators – special events, live entertainment, and community gatherings bring people to Main Street and create opportunities for sales.
- Customer Service Everywhere – consistent hospitality from store-to-store makes customers want to return again and bring friends.
- Branding and Promotion – Communities must stress how Main Street differs from other business in their communities and how they differ from their neighboring communities.
- Third Spaces – these are the comfortable gathering places for community residents outside of work and home, such as coffee shops, libraries, art centers, etc.
- Main Street is the Community’s Identity and History – The goal is to take advantage of the existing assets and visual opportunities natural to the business district by directing attention to all of its physical elements.
- Downtown Design – When considering design elements consider the architecture, storefronts, signs, public spaces, parking areas, street furniture, public art, merchandising and window displays.
- Organization and Partnerships – Customers benefit when Main Street businesses establish partnerships and work collaboratively on special promotions, maintaining similar store hours, beautification, signage and more.
- Main Street is a Source of Revenue for our Community – The goal is to build a multi-purpose business district that responds to the needs of today’s community residents and visitors while creating a source of financial stability for the business owners and the community.
- Downtown Retail Development – Many of our retailers, grocers and other businesses have moved from Main Street to the highway leaving vacant buildings with seemingly no purpose, but many communities are welcoming entrepreneurs of all types to see those buildings as a strategic opportunity that will revitalize Main Street.
- Downtown Housing – Using existing available spaces on our Main Streets for residential living should be considered to help solve some of our rural housing issues.
- Downtown Finance, Employment and Demographics – Local government and economic development should place a focus on the available quantitative data, local policy, and the potential for a thriving Main Street and what that means financially for community growth.
- Buy Local – These efforts are more than just about spending your retail dollars at home; they should be focused on a broader view of local business such as ag-based businesses, repair shops, restaurants, insurance agents, healthcare, and other services that provide local jobs and self-employment opportunities.
- Main Street is often the Source of First Impressions – The goal is to create a local invitation and sense of community pride that is visible to other people as they pass through our Main Streets.
- Preservation and Rehabilitation – Begin the conversation of property responsibilities by partnering with local building owners to support the improvement of buildings. Leaving a downtown building sitting empty and deteriorating is pilfering money from the building and business owners next door.
- Beautification – Creating visual appeal can be done affordably with flowers, shrubs, signage, trees, outdoor furniture, or a fresh coat of paint and it all makes a big difference.
- Main Street is a Place of Opportunity – The goal is to create a community mindset that is welcoming to new business and open to new opportunities that will help the community thrive. Communities or local Main Street organizations can recruit to fill a niche market that is attractive to a target market or create a wide variety of businesses to serve the general public. Below are a few areas that may be appealing opportunities:
- Arts & Entertainment
- Workforce Education
- Small Industry
- Pop-up Shops featuring handmade items
Our Main Streets do matter in rural communities. There is so much potential in those vacant historic buildings or empty lots. Main Streets will forever be the center of our communities if we come together and do the hard work to preserve them. Main Streets will always be changing; they will never be done; and they will forever be a work in progress if they are to be successful.