On April 12, 2021, Main Street America presented six downtown commercial districts with the Main Street Forward Award at the 2021 Main Street Now Conference.
The awards program recognizes communities that have shown exemplary recovery, revitalization and resilience efforts amid the multiple crises of 2020, including the converging impacts of COVID-19, a national and local reckoning related to racial justice and equity, and cascading climate crises.
From launching an outdoor dining district and providing small business relief funding to distributing meals and producing PPE, their work represents the power of Main Street programs to support and uplift their communities.
“The recipients of the Main Street Forward Awards have demonstrated inspiring creativity and entrepreneurial thinking in the face of existential challenges to their downtowns,” said Main Street America’s President and CEO Patrice Frey.
“While their projects are wide-ranging, these Main Street programs have all stepped in to rebuild more sustainable, resilient, and equitable communities. I know that their work will serve as an example to communities across the country of the perseverance of the Main Street Movement,” she added.
The Main Street Forward Award recipients include:
Argenta Downtown Council: North Little Rock, Arkansas
Argenta Downtown Council (ADC) created the Argenta Downtown Dining District, a designated outdoor seating area that has helped local restaurants stay in business despite the pandemic. When Argenta’s restaurants needed additional space to host outdoor dining, ADC stepped in to help by crafting a plan for a shared outdoor seating area. After getting funding to set up tables, chairs, and tents downtown, the dining district was an instant success. While the district is closed for the winter, plans are already underway to reopen in the spring.
Main Street Lincoln Park – Ecolibrium3: Duluth, Minnesota
Main Street Lincoln Park (MS LNPK) has worked to ensure their community had access to food, funding, and other essential resources over the past year. MS LNPK volunteers staffed a free farmers market and coordinated fundraising and distribution for thousands of meals to be delivered to neighborhood children while schools were closed. Soon after the pandemic started, MS LNPK started offering small business technical assistance, reopening grants, and other funding opportunities. MS LNPK’s pandemic response also included several efforts to ensure health and wellness, including Pay it Forward PPE, a partnership with Duluth outdoor goods manufacturer Frost River, to produce thousands of face masks and face shields.
Emporia Main Street: Emporia, Kansas
Emporia Main Street (EMS) launched a multi-pronged pandemic response, which included significant relief funding, small business support, and even a pen pal program for residents of local senior living facilities. EMS partnered with the local hospital, Newman Regional Health, to rally community volunteers to make cloth masks for patients and health care workers. Thanks to monetary donations from the mask drive, EMS and other partners created the Greater Emporia Area Disaster Relief Fund, which has allocated nearly $200,000 to more than 100 businesses and nonprofits impacted by the pandemic. EMS further supported local businesses by encouraging residents to purchase downtown gift cards, which were used to buy items for hospital staff and school district employees.
Gloucester Main Street Preservation Trust: Gloucester, Virginia
The Main Street Preservation Trust (MSPT) is being recognized for its Downtown Dollars program, which raised nearly $150,000 in gift card sales to local businesses and benefited Gloucester healthcare workers. MSPT created a custom-built e-commerce platform that allows shoppers to buy vouchers for all retail, restaurant, and personal service businesses on Main Street. The cards were sold at a 30 percent discount to buyers, with state and private funding making up the difference. Thanks to donations, MSPT delivered gift cards to more than 400 healthcare workers at nearby Riverside Walter Reed Hospital.
Missouri Main Street Connection
Missouri Main Street Connection (MMSC) is being honored for its Four Ways to Connect programming, which helped support the state’s 180 local Main Street programs via regular communication and resource-sharing throughout the pandemic. MMSC’s online resource outlet included links to available funding sources, as well as information about how other organizations were responding to the changing situation. Through weekly video conference calls with the directors of MMSC’s local programs, the Main Street program offered more personalized support, including grant writing advice and news of fundraising opportunities. Finally, through their “Mornings on Main” webinar series, MMSC featured expert presentations providing context, insight, and ideas from around the country.
Royal Oak Downtown Development Authority: Royal Oak, Michigan
Royal Oak’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA) supported and stimulated the local economy during the pandemic with a two-pronged approach. Funded with the $2 million proceeds from a 2018 land sale, the Rebound Royal Oak Program, offered small business assistance grants to downtown businesses. All told, 92 businesses received funding, accounting for nearly $1.1 million in total. The DDA also stimulated demand by subsidizing consumer spending through Royal Oak Downtown Dollars. The DDA sent free $20 e-gift cards to the first 20,000 Royal Oak residents and consumers that signed up for its e-newsletter. The cards can be redeemed at more than 70 locations in downtown Royal Oak.
Photo shows Argenta’s outdoor dining district. Credit: Argenta Downtown Council.