Nine historic downtown revitalization programs win “Main Street Resiliency Grants” to speed recovery from COVID economic crisis

The national non-profit historic downtown revitalization organization, Main Street America, has announce the recipients of the Main Street Resiliency Grant Program, which will provide nine Accredited Main Street America programs and one Coordinating Program with $8,500 each to fund efforts that will help them navigate the impacts of the pandemic and position their communities for a full recovery.

These grant recipients demonstrate the creativity and entrepreneurial thinking that have historic ally driven successful revitalization on Main Street and will be key to navigating recovery,” said Main Street America’s President and CEO Patrice Frey. “I’m inspired by the innovative projects these communities have proposed, and I know they will serve as models and sources of inspiration for Main Street programs across the country as they enter the next phase of reopening.

This grant fund is made possible through the generosity of Joe and Marge Grills of Rapidan, Virginia. The Grills have been long-time leaders in supporting Main Street at both the national and local level, including funding $80,000 worth of grants to Main Street communities in the spring of 2020. Joe has served as a founding member of the National Main Street Center Board since 2013, and they are dedicated supporters of Main Street America programs in Orange and Culpeper, Virginia.

From placemaking and design solutions to small business training and community engagement events, these winning ideas represent a wide range of creative approaches to the impact of COVID-19 on Main Street.

Placemaking and Design Solutions

Designing for Distance + Dignity Pilot Project: Erie Downtown Partnership (Erie, Pennsylvania)
With Erie’s homeless shelters operating with limited capacities, many people experiencing homelessness and other vulnerable individuals have gathered downtown with no access to public restrooms. To serve the needs of these residents, the Designing for Distance + Dignity project will create welcoming rest areas that feature restrooms, hand washing stations, hand sanitizer stations, warming shelters and wind shielding, as well as areas to access food, outreach resources, and public art. On top of creating an environment of radical hospitality downtown, the project will aim to employ people experiencing homelessness and foster relationships between social service agencies, community/economic development agencies, and local government.

Carbondale Urban Furniture: Carbondale Main Street (Carbondale, Illinois)
To engage their local community and encourage safe gathering spaces downtown, Carbondale Main Street plans to install permanent and artful seating in their downtown corridor. The Main Street program asked college students at the local school of architecture and interior design to create a range of benches and outdoor furniture for the downtown, including solar-powered charging stations, bike racks, and even landscaping elements. This spring, they plan to host a virtual series of community charrettes to get feedback on these designs. Carbondale Main Street will use grant funds to implement several of these outdoor furniture designs in partnership with the City of Carbondale, who has agreed to install them in certain locations. Carbondale hopes this framework will be used for future infrastructure projects, such as amphitheaters and bike racks, in the city center.

Downtown Dining Breezeway: Downtown Moultrie (Moultrie, Georgia)
Downtown Moultrie plans to enhance the outdoor dining scene for their 14 downtown restaurants by creating a “Dining Breezeway.” While there are only four outdoor dining tables available throughout downtown today, the “Dining Breezeway” project would include seating at tables for 25-30 people, two benches, three decorative planters, improved permanent lighting, bistro lighting, and roof repairs to stop leaking problems. Downtown Moultrie plans to transform a vacant, covered breezeway that is centrally located to downtown into a welcoming space for residents to safely dine outside. To promote the outdoor dining space, Moultrie will create brochures that will be handed out at all restaurants downtown.

The May Flower Initiative: Downtown SLO (San Luis Obispo, California)
Through the May Flower Initiative, Downtown SLO aims to beautify vacant storefronts while supporting artists and students who have been impacted by the pandemic. Launched in May of 2020, the program paired local artists with downtown businesses to create floral artwork in and on storefront windows. For 2021, Downtown SLO plans to create a larger, more interactive community art project that will send a message that Main Street is a safe, fun, and vibrant place to do business. Downtown SLO will work with the local arts council and university students to create a larger floral art piece in the heart of downtown at Mission Plaza. They also plan to partner with the local Children’s Museum to add an interactive and educational scavenger hunt to the project. Art-filled booklets with riddles and hints will lead participants to different windows around downtown where they will continue finding the next clues. The May Flower Initiative will be an affordable program that will develop relationships between property owners, downtown business owners, the municipal government, local artist organizations, and university students.

Small Business Support

Post-COVID Resilience with Black Owned Businesses in Biddeford: Heart of Biddeford (Biddeford, Maine)
Heart of Biddeford will implement a targeted approach to addressing the impact of COVID-19 by collaborating with those most affected by the pandemic: Biddeford’s Black-owned businesses. To preserve businesses that are disparately impacted by COVID-19, Heart of Biddeford will enhance their partnerships with these business owners as well as with Black Owned Maine (BOM), a community resource for Black-owned businesses and the Black community. Black Owned Maine was started in mid-2020 by two area residents who created a statewide business directory/website and a Black Business Pledge. Heart of Biddeford will first create a working agreement with BOM to help fund the redesign of this online resource for ease of access, navigability, search engine optimization, Google Translate, mobile optimization, security features, and overall aesthetic. In addition, Heart of Biddeford will create promotional campaigns about the BOM website, their Black Business Pledge, and the local Black-owned businesses. Through this project, Heart of Biddeford hopes to show the power of authentic partnerships, where all parties bring something to the table, and where systemic racism is addressed.

Project Leap: Main Street de Las Vegas (Las Vegas, New Mexico)
Main Street de Las Vegas will use grant funds to start Project Leap, a small business e-commerce site, training program, and accompanying marketing campaign to help their local businesses get online. In working with businesses through their popular Cash Mob program, Main Street de Las Vegas discovered many did not have websites, social media pages, or branding. Through Project Leap, small businesses will get connected to a graphic designer and website expert who will help them develop branding and enhance their online presence. After attending a workshop, small businesses will apply to receive one-on-one assistance. Main Street de Las Vega will also work with Las Vegas First Independent Business Alliance to create and promote a Las Vegas group e-commerce site to market 20 small local businesses and a shop local message.

Promotions and Engagement Events

Logan Outside The Circle: Logan Circle Main Street, District Bridges (Washington, DC)
Logan Circle Main Street plans to launch a summer outdoor fitness program to address two COVID-19 related needs: the financial stability of their locally-owned fitness companies and the physical and emotional wellbeing of the neighborhood’s residents. Through the “Logan Outside The Circle” program, they plan to hold a Saturday Yoga and Brunch launch event in June to springboard into future fitness activities in the park. The Saturday Yoga and Brunch will pair four yoga classes in Logan Circle Park with four restaurants for a post-yoga brunch over four weekends. After their launch events, Logan Circle Main Street plans to host a regular outdoor Summer Events Program with local fitness businesses and restaurants. Funds from the grant program will be used to underwrite the launch event and set-up costs for the summer programming, including marketing, advertising, refreshments, sound equipment, and set-up costs for promotional items such as t-shirts and water bottles.

Historic Downtown Livestream Shopping: Historic Manassas, Inc. (Manassas, Virginia)
To support local businesses in Downtown Manassas in a safe and engaging way, Historic Manassas, Inc. plans to start a livestream shopping program. While their Main Street had a successful holiday shopping season and their residents value supporting small businesses, foot traffic downtown has slowed. The Main Street program will start a livestream program highlighting one local business each month, where the store owner will explain the products they have for sale and audience members can receive special discounts for purchasing products during a certain window of time. A livestream shopping experience will bring a level of excitement to supporting small businesses, all while fostering a sense of connection not possible with traditional online retail. Grant funds will be used to develop a website, enlist the help of a videographer and salesperson, and promote the livestream events.

Main Street Winchester Subscription Box: Main Street Winchester (Winchester, Kentucky)
Main Street Winchester will create a downtown subscription box program to support local merchants and encourage residents to rally around downtown businesses. Boxes will include products and ephemera from local stores, gift cards to local restaurants, early access to downtown events, and special branded marketing products unique to each box. Plus, each box will be curated around a theme that the downtown embodies: Pioneering, Illuminating, Boundless, and Local Flavor. Subscribers will receive four boxes for a set price via mail or pick-up over the course of the summer, and individual boxes will be available for purchase at participating retailers.

Place-based Marketing Assistance

Resilient Marketing and Management for Main Street: Storytelling, Placemaking and Entrepreneurship: Main Street South Carolina (South Carolina)
South Carolina Main Street hopes to improve the ability of their local Main Street programs to tell their stories and show their value by creating a two-part marketing program. As the state coordinating program, they will work alongside two consultants to craft Main Street-specific stories and develop a management methodology to schedule content. During the first part of the program, funds will be used to pilot a workshop to equip South Carolina Main Street communities with six skills necessary to implement a successful and sustainable storytelling campaign, including interviewing, writing, photography, videography, podcasting, and content management. Participants will leave the workshop with the skills to launch a compelling and well-curated downtown marketing campaign. The second part of the program will focus on a Downtown Director Playbook, which is being developed by Small Town Soul, a business that helps rural communities and small businesses with strategic marketing solutions. Small Town Soul will provide one-on-one coaching with each participating local program to meet their diverse marketing needs.

Photo courtesy of Logan Circle Main Street.

See Main Street America website.

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