Classic settings for classic films

Community members working to revitalize their downtown often reminisce of Saturdays when residents poured into the streets. Frequently the movies are part of those recollections, and the black and white photos show it to be the case. People crowd the sidewalks, and on the marquee above them: Double Indemnity, Singing in the Rain, Some Like it Hot. 

These classic films are also listed on the  Library of Congress’s National Film Registry. Begun in 1989, the list grows by 25 titles each year, reaching 550 this month.  No matter what your film preference, you’ll find a favorite on the list: B films and musicals, mysteries and animated features, documentaries and melodramas.  One will be there that changed your view of the world. (For me it was Number 360: Paths of Glory.) Film still matters, and it still matters downtown.

In Culpeper, the 1938 art deco State Theatre is undergoing a $10 million dollar renovation. This Designated Virginia Main Street Community is teaming The State with another community asset: the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center at the nearby Packard Campus of  Library of Congress.  Already drawing film buffs from around the Mid-Atlantic, Culpeper is uniquely positioned to spotlight film as part of our shared downtown experience.

They are not alone: a number of Virginia’s traditional commercial districts still have active movie palaces, and many more have jewels with the potential for restoration and use as multi-function community facilities. But with so many home viewing options available to film lovers, the challenge is to engage movie-goers in a different way by hosting film festivals, special screenings, panel discussions, and showings for targeted audiences. 

Try partnering with a local film club or community college in developing programs. Introduce each screening and greet the audience. Use it to start a community discussion. The goal can’t just be to bring people downtown: use this resource as another opportunity to create community among those sitting together in the dark.

Martinsville Courthouse Historic Virginia Site of the Month

The Department of Historic Resources (DHR) posted a new slide show for their web feature “Historic Virginia, Site of the Month.”  This month DHR features images and highlights of the changing nature of the circa-1824 Henry County Courthouse, which found new life in 2010 thanks to grants from Save America’s Treasures and the local Harvest Foundation.

The site and courthouse have gone through considerable alterations since Martinsville was established as the seat of Henry County in 1791, with a log courthouse originally built in 1793. A two-story brick courthouse was built in 1824, but all that’s immediately recognizable of that structure are the four columns of the front portico.  Today the 1929 remodeled courthouse is a “contributing” building to the Martinsville Downtown Historic District.

The preservation of the building was spearheaded by Martinsville-Henry County Historical Society (M-HCHS), who from1996 through 2010 worked diligently in phases to restore the courthouse building and adaptively reuse it for the community. In partnership with the County and national and local advocates, M-HCHS reports that the project, originally estimated at more than $1 million, was accomplished for less than $200,000.

The restored building now houses a Heritage Center & Museum, the historical society, and an information center for the New College Institute.  Additional information about the sites in downtown Martinsville can be found on the Martinsville Uptown Revitalization Association website.

Virginia Main Street Downtown Improvement Grants at work

In the summer of 2010, Virginia Main Street (VMS) provided seven Downtown Improvement Grants (DIGs)  that allowed designated Main Street communities to undertake specific projects for which they did not otherwise have funding. The small grants, capped at $2,500, were awarded in a competitive process based on projected outcomes, committee and volunteeer leadership, and the capacity to successfully complete the planned project.

While Virginia Main Street will continue to monitor the projects throughout the spring for outcomes, two of the projects have already been recognized in local media outlets for their progress and impact in their communities.

In Culpeper, The Star-Exponent acknowledged the VMS Downtown Improvement Grant for making “Downtown’s New Look” possible. Read the article for a review of the community decision to use bright colors in the historic district. The paper also noted in a June 4, 2010 editorial that the bright colors of Culpeper Renaissance Initiative’s downtown banners, “can add a sparkle downtown.”

In Harrisonburg, two Daily News-Record articles, (“Enticing Massanutten Tourists,” and “Cuchi Guidos Closes in the City”) noted the importance of the VMS DIG grant in supporting Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance’s efforts to support and retain existing businesses. The strategic initiative developed tools to attract more Massanutten Resort guests to the dining, shopping, and cultural options of Downtown Harrisonburg. Products included a coupon book, dining and children’s storytelling tour development, and familiarization tours for front line hospitality staff from the surrounding area. 

We’ll post more results and more media coverage in the coming months. For information on the projects funded, read the  June 29 Virginia Main Street blog post.

New Year’s Resolution Poll

While the typical New Year’s resolution is abandoned somewhere around the long Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, there is a certain feeling of “anything’s possible” in the air during these first few weeks of January.  Now really can be a good time to set some goals.  Go ahead, think big.  If you don’t stretch yourself to do more, why bother?

Take a few pointers from weight-loss experts and put these strategies to work in your downtown to make your resolutions a reality:

Write it down – Make sure your goals are clear and quantitative.  Write them down so you can track your success.  It also makes it more real when you can see it on paper, or better yet, chart it on a graph.

Tell a friend – Make sure people know what you are going to do.  They can hold you accountable and keep you on track. They may even offer to help!

Make it reasonable – As it didn’t take two weeks to pack on an extra 25 lbs, the historic facades in your district weren’t all covered over in a matter of a few months.  Go ahead and challenge yourself, but don’t expect to have a completely rehabbed, fully occupied downtown by June, either. 

Pace yourself – As we age, it seems the years fly by, but in reality a year is a long time.  Break out your big goals into some chunks so you can have incremental success along the way.

Now, take the first VMS poll of the new year.

Plan now to attend 2011 Main Street trainings

Now is the time to plan for 2011 downtown revitalization trainings.  The Virginia Main Street training calendar is available.  And on the national front, preparations are being made for the Main Streets Conference, this year to be held in Des Moines, Iowa. Don’t wait. Get these important dates inked in on your 2011 calendar today:

March 31: Milestone Awards, Richmond
May 22-25: National Main Streets Conference, Des Moines, Iowa
July 13-14: VMS Summer Toolkit, Staunton
September 14-15: VMS Essentials, TBD
September 26-27: Preservation Virginia Conference
Fall: Virginia Downtown Development Association (VDDA) Conference

The Main Street Center, in preparation for the conference, this year themed, “Grow your Main Street,”  has put together a list of reasons and strategies that can help you make that valuable experience a reality. Make the case  in your community to attend.  A big team of dedicated leaders (including our own Kyle Meyer) are finalizing the list of session topics for the conference, and between now and May, much more information will be available. You can sign up here for email updates as topics, speakers, and special events are set.

Thanks from the Virginia Main Street staff to everyone who participated in the 2010 trainings. The more communities that particpate in them, the richer and more productive they are.  We on the VMS staff have learned a good deal at each one, and we look forward to seeing you in the new year.

Main Street Merchant Profile: The Yellow Button

The Yellow Button, a clothing boutique for the fashionable in the heart of Harrisonburg, knows its cutomer. Students and  professionals in the Shendandoah Valley don’t want to give up access to quality clothes and accessories just because they’re not in a major urban area. In fact, this 2009 photo shoot, which uses Harrisonburg’s downtown streets as a backdrop, makes the town look pretty cosmopolitan. That couple on the Vespa would be at home on Rome’s Via  Borgognona.

“Our downtown location appealed to me because the store has character,” says twenty-something owner Miranda Lancaster.  “It’s not like every other store around.”

The business received a facade grant from Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance to adorn the Main Street boutique with name-appropriate yellow awnings. “The HDR staff has been extremely helpful and supportive from the beginning,” says Lancaster.  The Yellow Button, opened in 2009, has also benefitted from Lancaster’s retail experience and thoughtful customer care. “We’re helpful without being pushy. It’s a comfortable place to shop,” she says. “And we’ve grown a lot through word of mouth and social media marketing strategies, including Facebook.”

Her advice for new businesses owners: watch costs as you start out. “Working a lot, and by yourself if possible, at the beginning will keep your payroll costs down and help you establish strong relationships with your customers.”

To become one of those customers, visit the shop in downtown Harrisonburg at 191 South Main Street.