Finding Main Street Toolkit Available

The full book club toolkit for Dar Williams’ What I Found in a Thousand Towns is now available! Use the toolkit to build “positive proximity,” and start local conversations around the key identity-building assets in your community–who knows what next steps you will take.

What I Found in a Thousand Towns emphasizes the role of projects and individuals in fostering strong community identity. Each chapter features a different group of assets ranging from local food to community spaces. The structure provides an opportunity for Main Street districts to convene and highlight a diverse group of partners, celebrating their work, strengthening alliances and inviting new participants.

Identify potential projects as a result and apply to pitch them for project funding in the 2019 Idea Pitch at Downtown Intersections.

fms tools

HOW TO GET INVOLVED: Invite a local book club, library or civic group to partner with your Main Street. Create some buzz reinforcing the value of the work you are doing. Using the Virginia videos and examples from the book, shine a celebratory light on your own local efforts and community partners. With the toolkit, you can pretty easily set up your own informal mini-conference.  Contact Doug Jackson at (804) 418-9878 or Douglas.Jackson@dhcd.virginia.gov for assistance and brainstorming support.

Afraid you do not have enough readers? Do not worry, you can use the videos to supplement and start the conversation. Launched throughout the fall of 2018 via Facebook Live conversations, the chapter videos have received more than 20,000 views on Facebook. In 2019, DHCD will promote the videos through a Finding Main Street social media campaign featuring quotes and images from the interviews conducted as part of the project with more than 80 Main Street leaders. This campaign will lead up to the 2019 Downtown Intersections and the Idea Pitch competition.

 

 

Update: VMS Idea Pitch! Winner – Blackstone

Guest blogger Zachary Whitlow, executive director of Downtown Blackstone Inc., provides an update on their Blackstone Town Square Revitalization Project that won the VMS Idea Pitch! Award at Downtown Intersections 2018.

We were incredibly excited and grateful to have been chosen as the winner of the first annual Main Street Idea Pitch! competition. The presentation process could not have been better organized, and, even though nerves were felt, all participants were made to feel heard and welcomed among dozens of peers and fellow Main Street colleagues. It was truly a great and fun opportunity for our small, rural Main Street community to receive help in funding a downtown revitalization project that demonstrated our value to key stakeholders and others.

The Blackstone Town Square Revitalization Project was inspired by Dar Williams, author of “What I Found in a Thousand Towns,” and her exploration of spaces and positive proximity. Through design efforts focused on place-making, our organization transformed Blackstone’s underutilized town square into a more people-centered space that stresses inclusiveness, allowing residents and visitors alike to socialize and build ongoing, permanent relationships.

Utilizing the $5,000 award, we reanimated the social utility of the green space by installing outdoor seating areas, planters and trash receptacles. Through use of our own funds and the VTC’s LOVEwork Reimbursement Program, a 17’ x 32’ destination mural and LOVEwork were created. They are meant to serve as two major lures for visitors and residents to interact with through the use of social media and other means in the heart of downtown Blackstone.

We’ve placed a real emphasis on downtown beautification over the past year and the Blackstone Town Square Revitalization Project has served as a much needed catalyst that has inspired neighboring property owners and others to begin making exterior improvements and other design-related changes to their buildings. Although our initial goals for the revitalization project have been met, there is still additions that we are planning to make in the future that will enhance the space even more. Our dreams are becoming a reality!

Recognizing the Hard Work on Main Street: Gloucester’s Village Corridor Enhancement Project

Virginia Main Street Merit Awards recognize the hard work, dedication and success of Virginia’s Main Street communities and their achievements across the four points of the Main Street Approach®.  This is the fifth in a blog series to highlight each of the seven 2018 awards. Heads up, the 2019 Merit Awards nominations will be open early in the new year. Whether a DHCD Commercial District Affiliate or VMS Designated Community, start thinking about your program’s recent achievements.  We want to hear all about them!  

The “Best Downtown Public Improvement Project” award is given to the community that has implemented a design project in the public sphere.  A focus on quality design supports a community’s revitalization by enhancing the physical elements of downtown while capitalizing on the unique assets that set the commercial district apart.  Gloucester’s Main Street Preservation Trust Executive Director Jenny Crittenden accepted the award for their Village Corridor Enhancement Project.

The 2009 Gloucester Court House Village Plan plan recommended that the trust lead the charge to improve the two gateways leading to the Main Street commercial district.  The goal was to provide visual continuity between the gateways and to attract visitors to downtown shopping, dining, and historic sites.

The first phase of the project included the installation of 11 banner poles, the new Virginia Main Street sign, landscaping and brick pavers.  Additionally, the trust and environmental planning firm VHB Inc. worked with the county and local garden club to relocate existing public art to the sites and planted 8,000 daffodils, daylilies, roses and native ornamental grasses.

Where people may have driven by the understated gateways to Main Street in the past, they now look and turn to see what is beckoning them.  This project sends the message that the community invests in the downtown, much like its business and property owners do with their buildings.

Congratulations to Gloucester’s Main Street Preservation Trust and local partners!

Walking in a Main Street Wonderland: Celebrating the Holidays in Virginia

If you are looking for the holiday spirit, look no further than Virginia’s Main Streets.  Whether a holiday shopping promotion, a tree lighting, or a downtown evening carriage ride, there is a special experience just for you and your family.  Our partners at #VirginiaTourism make sure you can plan this season’s special moments with the greatest of ease through event listings and search engines. Here are a few highlights of what Virginia’s charming towns and cities have to offer throughout December:

Light Up the Tracks, Ashland – See downtown Ashland as a mile long holiday card all lit up for the season each weekend.

Christmas Parade, Blackstone – This annual family event, planned for December 14, is one part of a full calendar of weekend Santa visits, shopping specials, and the not-to-miss Bevell’s Hardware train display.

Festive Fridays, Cape Charles – Five nights of free, family-friendly festivities, including carriage rides, street performers, live local music, restaurant specials, and evening shopping.

Holiday Market, Abingdon – Support the local businesses by shopping at the Abingdon Farmers Markets’ Holiday Market with vendors selling produce, meats, baked goods, clothing accessories, jewelry, paintings, wine, confections, and canned goods.

Big Band Holidays, Lynchburg – The recently renovated historic Academy of Music Theater hosts the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, bringing out the magic of the holiday with soulful renditions of holiday classics.

When it snows, ain’t it thrilling; though your nose, gets a chilling; we’ll frolic and play, the Eskimo way; walking in a [Main Street] wonderland!

Find out more >>

Ashland’s Light Up the Tracks

Recognizing the Hard Work on Main Street: Sandwich Sampler Competition

At the recent 2018 Downtown Intersections in Harrisonburg, we continued the tradition of acknowledging outstanding achievements in comprehensive downtown revitalization efforts through Merit Awards.  They recognize the hard work, dedication and success of Virginia’s Main Street communities and their achievements across the four point of the Main Street Approach®.  This is the third in a blog series to highlight each of the seven awards.

Promoting Main Street takes many forms, but the ultimate goal is to position the downtown as the hub of the community and economic activity, while creating a positive image that showcases a community’s unique characteristics.  This next award honors the best downtown restaurant promotion designed to generate foot-traffic to local eateries within the district.  Downtown Blackstone Inc. Executive Director Zachary Whitlow accepted the 2018 Best Downtown Restaurant Event award for the first annual Sandwich Sampler Competition.

This past spring, the first Sandwich Sampler Competition was held in downtown Blackstone’s Town Square.  The community was invited to sample signature sandwiches from participating local restaurants and take part in the voting for the best sandwich, crowning Blackstone’s Sandwich King or Queen.  The event was designed to showcase the quality of local cuisine and entice visitors to dine at the downtown eateries.  Downtown retail also gained exposure and amassed return customers through a cross-promotional campaign of special-offer coupons.

For the inaugural year, only 100 tickets were available for purchase, and it was a sell-out crowd! With a fine selection of local sandwich options, the competition was fierce, but the winner was quite clear. The Corner Kitchen won with a distinctive house-made strawberry ice cream sandwich.  While the inaugural event generated a small amount of revenue, it has the ability to become a profitable signature event. Given the vast amount of positive reviews, the competition will become a bigger and better annual event.

Congratulations Downtown Blackstone!

Visit downtown Blackstone for the upcoming Regional Rev Up: Opportunity Analysis – Effective Design, Oct. 17, 2018.

The District Digest Vol. 4 – Downtown Ideas to Put to Work

While you were busy making a difference in your hometown, you might have missed these thought-provoking reads.  Attraction, expansion and retention of businesses for your Main Street district is vital. It is also one of the most difficult things for a community to successfully accomplish. It takes hard work, planning and follow-through. Here is a dose of inspiration and education:

  1. Retention and Attraction Strategies for a Balanced Retail Sector – National League of Cities
  2. Chicago Proposes Experiment with Pop-up Urbanism – The Architects Newspaper
  3. Creative Uses for Buildings in Small Towns – University of Wisconsin Extension
  4. What’s in a Name? The Different Types of Shared Work Spaces – Virginia Main Street
  5. Incubators: Hatching Ideas into Business – Virginia Main Street
  6. Accelerators: Taking Businesses to the Next Level – Virginia Main Street

Recognizing the Hard Work on Main Street: The Friendly City Fortune

At the recent 2018 Downtown Intersections in Harrisonburg, we continued our tradition of acknowledging outstanding achievements in comprehensive downtown revitalization efforts through Merit Awards. They recognize the hard work, dedication and success of Virginia’s Main Street communities and their achievements across the four points of the Main Street Approach®.  This is the second in a blog series to highlight each of the seven awards. 

A strong organizational foundation is key for a sustainable revitalization effort.  The focus is on ensuring that all organizational resources – partners, funding and volunteers – are mobilized effectively.  Accordingly, the Outstanding Fundraising Effort award goes to the Main Street organization that has displayed the most creativity and success in securing funds for its downtown projects.  From an effort well-played, Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance (HDR) Director of Resources Lauren Huber and Executive Director Andrea Dono accepted the award for the Friendly City Fortune mega-raffle.

In 2017, HDR launched the new fundraiser where they sold $100 tickets and awarded $250,000 in prizes, which included cash, vacation packages, outdoor recreation vehicles, and several cars and SUVs.  Prizes were given away during Valley Fourth, Harrisonburg’s Fourth of July celebration hosted by HDR.  The Friendly City Fortune was their riskiest and most successful fundraiser to date. The goals were to earn unrestricted income, to find a new way to raise money from outside of the typical donor base and start being able to fund new and bigger Main Street projects.

Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance achieved all of these goals and raised nearly $200,000 on top of their other traditional revenue streams.  The success of the inaugural raffle allowed HDR to fund more grants, beautify downtown, support more businesses and build a more sustainable organization.  Through the process, HDR sharpened their marketing skills and learned new ways to reach new audiences. As a result, brand awareness for Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance and the Friendly City Fortune has hit an all-time high.

Congratulations Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance (and all the prize winners)!

To learn more>>>