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

Local Main Street Communities coordinate for regional benefit

 ** Guest blogger Susan Howard, Executive Director, Abingdon Main Street

As the director of Abingdon Main Street, I am very fortunate to have three other designated Virginia Main Street communities, Bristol, Marion and St. Paul, each less than an hour’s drive from Abingdon.

The proximity of our communities and their cultural similarities have allowed us to explore ways to work together in a regional partnership.  During the holiday season of 2013, we promoted a buy local theme using a common slogan—“Spread holiday cheer when you spend it here.”  Recently, Christina Blevins of Believe in Bristol arranged a meeting with Anthony Flaccavento, a local Abingdon organic farmer and consultant for sustainable economic development, along with Olivia Hall from Marion Downtown, Teresa Harless from St. Paul Main Street, Joy Rumley from Virginia Main Street, and yours truly. Flaccevento discussed the organization called BALLE, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies.

BALLE is like a chamber of commerce for locally-owned, independent businesses, the kind of businesses that are the heart and soul of any Main Street community.  BALLE also focuses on the triple bottom line of success for businesses:  financial, social and environmental.  We talked about the potential for a loosely-formed BALLE-like organization, as as well what it would require to form an actual BALLE chapter. And of course, we discussed the need for funding and grant opportunities available.

The next step is for the four Main Street directors in our region to meet with our respective economic restructuring committees to discuss the feasibility of a partnership between our communities using the BALLE principles.  We recognize the advantages, in terms of business networking, education and promotion, of buy-local principles, but we must decide if BALLE is a good fit for us in terms of a regional partnership.  Whatever we decide, we will be working together, and that is a good thing.

Abingdon, Ashland and Manassas Main Street programs receive matching tourism grants

Governor Bob McDonnell recently announced that three Main Street organizations would receive matching tourism grants as part of Virginia Tourism Corporation’s (VTC) Marketing Leverage Grant program. Abingdon Main Street will receive $5,000 for its “Shop, Dine, Play and Stay in Downtown” campaign; Historic Manassas, Inc. will receive $4,250 for a website makeover; and the Ashland Main Street Association will receive $5,000 for its “Find Your Passion in Ashland: The center of the universe” initiative.

The grants are designed to help local and regional tourism entities attract more visitors by leveraging local marketing dollars. The local organizations match the state grant funds by a minimum of 2:1 in order to support marketing projects.

These grants enable local tourism partners to pursue projects that might otherwise be beyond their budget. The Marketing Leverage Grants program is a powerful tool in helping to support and grow a robust economy in Virginia. Our local partners are working on amazing projects and campaigns that will help to beautify communities, bring more visitors to Virginia and create even more outstanding tourism products that visitors will continue to fall in love with year after year.” – Rita McClenny, president and CEO of Virginia Tourism Corporation

Tourism is an instant revenue generator for Virginia. In 2012 tourism generated $21.2 billion in revenue, supported 210,000 jobs and provided $1.36 billion in state and local taxes. Dollars invested in tourism are proven to provide a 5:1 return in tax revenue for Virginia, and the grant awards and matching funds provide a stimulus to localities seeking to increase tourism visitation and revenue.

The next round of VTC Marketing Leverage Program grants will open in spring 2014. Localities interested in applying may visit www.vatc.org for more information.

Bristol, Abingdon and Marion Main Street Programs partner for a regional shop local campaign

regional_shoppingBelieve in Bristol is partnering up with the Main Street programs in Abingdon and Marion for a shop local campaign that will be launched over the holidays and last throughout the next year. It is a campaign that focuses on the importance of buying local and supporting the small businesses in our communities.

Kenneth Heath, executive director of Marion’s Main Street Program, stated, “We are so proud to be partnering with our sister Main Street communities of Bristol and Abingdon. This is a great opportunity for us all to band together to remind our citizens of the importance of shopping local, supporting our neighbors and keeping our historic downtowns vibrant and alive.”

With campaigns like the 3/50 project highlighting the benefits a community gains from shopping local, it is time to jump on board and support our local community. Some facts about shopping local:

  • If half the employed population in the United States spent $50 each month in locally-owned, independent businesses, it would generate more than $42.6 billion in revenue.
  • For every $100 spent in locally-owned, independent stores, $68 returns to the local community through taxes, payroll and other expenditures.
  • For every $100 spent in chain stores, $43 comes back into the local community.

Susan Howard, executive director of Abingdon Main Street, said“Supporting our independent business is a priority for us. We are very excited to partner with Believe in Bristol and downtown Marion in this buy local promotion. It will allow us to make a bigger impact, and that is just good for all of our communities”.

“We want to challenge our communities to support local this holiday season and year around. Mom and Pop stores are the backbone of this country.  I am looking forward to working on future alliances together,” stated Christina Blevins, executive director for Believe in Bristol.

For more information, visit www.marionva.org/marion-downtown, www.abingdonva.us/main-street-program or www.believeinbristol.org.

Virginia’s Appalachian Trail Communities

The Appalachian Trail Community™ designation program is a new program of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, designed to recognize communities that promote and protect the Appalachian Trail (A.T.). The program serves to assist communities with sustainable economic development through tourism and outdoor recreation while preserving and protecting the A.T.

Completed in 1937, the 2,180-mile-long Appalachian National Scenic Trail is one of the longest, continuously-marked footpaths in the world. It spans through 14 states, ranging from Georgia to Maine. Virginia is home to 544 miles of the Appalachian Trial, more miles than any other state! There are 20 Appalachian Trail communities, 10 of them are in Virginia. From north to south, these are: Front Royal, Harrisonburg, Waynesboro, Buena Vista, Glasgow, Troutville, Pearisburg, Bland, Abingdon and Damascus. This year, Abingdon, a VMS community, was designated an Appalachian Trail Community™.

“Our town has long offered a respite for the weary hiker,” Abingdon Mayor Ed Morgan said in a written statement announcing the designation. “The Virginia Creeper Trail, which begins in Abingdon, is a natural connector to the A.T.” The designation ceremonywas held on Sept. 11, 2012.  Abingdon now joins the cities of Harrisonburg and Waynesboro, both designated Virginia Main Street communities that have embraced their proximity to the trail in their economic restructuring efforts, creating programs that attract hikers to their downtowns, as well as providing amenities and activities that are tied to the A.T.

Front Royal, Buena Vista and Pearisburg are VMS Commercial Affiliates.

Nestled 18 miles west of the A.T in the Shenandoah Valley, Harrisonburg is filled with locally-owned restaurants, museums, art galleries and shops.  Harrisonburg offers special packages for A.T. Hikers to make their stay an easier and more pleasant one. During their annual Valley 4th celebration, hikers are invited to participate in the parade.

The City of Waynesboro is located three miles from the junction of Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway. “The Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s community designation for Waynesboro strengthens the city’s effort in becoming a premier outdoor recreation destination,” stated Katie McElroy, Waynesboro’s tourism director. “The opening of the first phase of the South River Greenway is key to Waynesboro’s commitment to the outdoors,” explains C. Dwayne Jones, director of Waynesboro Parks and Recreation. 

Plan your Appalachian Trail adventure and stay, shop and dine in any of these great Virginia communities.

2012 Downtown Improvement Grants Awarded

This past February, Virginia Main Street awarded seven Downtown Improvement Grants ranging from $6,000 to $25,000. The grants are intended to help local Main Street organizations implement economic restructuring strategies that will have measureable local and regional economic benefits, establish and strengthen partnerships in the community and increase the capacity and involvement of local Main Street committees and volunteers. The funded organizations included:

  • Advance Abingdon, which will improve a public park to help anchor the western end of the Main Street district and encourage private investment in this part of the district.
  • Altavista on Track, which will renovate the upper stories of the building currently housing the Altavista Arts and Antiques incubator to allow for additional vendors.
  • Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, which will complete façade improvements on the former McCory’s Department Store as part of a larger restoration project that will establish a Main Street “mini-mall” for small retail, food and professional tenants.
  • Luray Downtown Initiative, Inc., which will complete permanent gateway improvements at the Main Street district’s most heavily-trafficked entrance.   
  • Marion Downtown Revitalization Association, which will launch the Virginia Main Street community’s first pop-up program by providing three new small businesses in the Main Street district with business training and grant funding to help defray start-up costs.
  • Staunton Downtown Development Association, which will upgrade outdoor lighting fixtures to help better connect the thriving downtown commercial district to the “Wharf District.”
  • Waynesboro Downtown Development, Inc., which will construct the Center for Coldwater Restoration demonstration hatchery and information center in the Main Street district to help develop the community’s potential as an outdoor recreation and tourism destination.

Downtown Improvement Grants are just one of the many forms of support that Virginia Main Street offers the state’s 25 designated Main Street communities.

Tourism Marketing Grants Announced

Governor McDonnell recently announced that the Virginia Tourism Commission (VTC) will award $635,000 in matching grants to 35 local tourism initiatives.  The grants, which require a 3-to-1 match, will help local and regional entities attract visitors by leveraging local tourism marketing dollars.

Several designated Virginia Main Street (VMS) communities and their partners will receive grant funds. Some communities will use the funds to promote local festivals (Waynesboro – Virginia Fly Fishing and Wine Festival and Winchester – 85th annual Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival). Others will promote driving trails (Harrisonburg & Luray – Shenandoah Music Trail), the Civil War (Farmville – Best Part of the Civil War – The End) and outdoor recreation (Harrisonburg, Staunton & Waynesboro – SVTA Outdoor Recreation and Family Traveling Marketing Campaign and Waynesboro & Abingdon – Virginia Appalachian Trail Smart Phone Application). Still others will use the funds for branding (Luray – Luray and Page County: So Much to Love) and comprehensive destination marketing, research and strategic planning (Abingdon). For a complete list of the funded projects, see the Governor’s announcement.  

Tourism is an important source of revenue and jobs in Virginia. In 2010, tourism generated $18.9 billion in revenue, provided $1.3 billion in state and local taxes and supported more than 204,000 jobs. 

“The VTC Marketing Leverage Grant program is an excellent resource … to boost tourism,” Alisa Bailey, president and CEO of the Virginia Tourism Corporation.  

The next round of Marketing Leverage Program grants will open Spring 2012. Localities interested in applying should visit www.vatc.org for more information.