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!

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Ashland’s Light Up the Tracks

Regional Rev Up: Opportunity Analysis – Effective Design

How can your downtown function better for residents, merchants, and visitors? And how do you identify opportunities in the physical environment to make your town a destination, drawing customers and revenue to the area?

On Oct. 11, 17, and 18 in Bristol, Blackstone and Gloucester, the fall edition of the Regional Rev Up promises to load you up with the tools you need to implement a people-centered downtown design process.

Effective downtown design supports a community’s transformation by enhancing the physical and visual elements of downtown while capitalizing on the unique assets that set the commercial district apart.  As a community, you need to bring together your stakeholders to plan what physical amenities will bring energy and dollars to the area. The type of design choices you make, and the variables that you weigh for making your decision, is the process known as opportunity analysis.

This workshop will explore a range of issues that impact the physical characteristics of downtown and provide you with a road map for navigating the opportunities involved in implementing holistic design principles to ensure they complement the overall strategy for your downtown.

Join us for this half-day workshop that will be educational, inspiring and fun!  Kathy Frazier, Principal of architecture and planning firm Frazier Associates, will lead the discussion and activities.

Registration is only $15 to cover lunch from a local eatery.  Registration for each Rev Up session closes one week prior to the event, register now to reserve your spot!

Register now! >>>

Virginia Main Street Awards Downtown Improvement Grants

VMS logoVMS recently awarded several Downtown Improvement Grants (DIG). These grants, of up to $25,000, help designated Main Street communities tackle special, one-time Main Street-related projects that need additional financial resources to become a reality. The awarded projects have specific economic restructuring outcomes and involve multiple community partners. This year, VMS received 14 competitive applications and awarded five grants, totaling $115,000. The awarded projects include the following:

  • Blackstone –A $25,000 DIG will help Downtown Blackstone Inc. install a wayfinding system for the Blackstone’s historic commercial district. Grant funds will assist in the fabrication and installation of 10 trailblazing signs at strategic locations throughout town and the replacement of six gateway signs located at each entrance into town. DIG funds will be matched by $25,000 from a USDA grant, $9,000 from the town and $9,500 of in-kind donations. VMS provided design assistance for the wayfinding system via its design services consultant, Frazier Associates.
  • Lynchburg – A $25,000 DIG will help Lynch’s Landing Foundation partner with the Lynchburg Office of Economic Development and the Region 2000 Small Business Development Center to develop and run a small business competition for businesses looking to start or expand in Lynchburg’s Central Business District. Three business competition winners will receive business start-up/expansion grants of up to $10,000 and marketing and media support.
  • Marion –A $25,000 DIG will help Marion Downtown! develop a façade enhancement grant program that requires participation in the Marion Downtown!’s award-winning business boot camp as a way of strengthening the skill sets of downtown business owners while improving the physical appearance of the Main Street district.
  • South Boston – A $20,000 DIG will help Destination Downtown South Boston develop a façade enhancement grant program that will provide matching grants of up to $5,000. In addition, the Main Street organization will develop a handbook to assist property owners in rehabilitating their properties and will host a forum that will allow property owners interested in rehabilitating their properties to meet one-on-one with design consultants for advice on their project.
  • Winchester – A $20,000 DIG will allow Winchester’s Old Town Development Board to provide matching façade improvement grants of up to $5,000. If property owners lack the resources to meet the 1:1 match requirement for the façade grant, they will be eligible to apply for commercial façade loans from the Winchester Economic Development Authority (EDA). The loans offer favorable repayment terms and are a useful alternative to the cash-matching requirement.

Downtown Improvement Grants Awarded

Five Designated Virginia Main Street (VMS) Communities have been awarded 2011 Downtown Improvment Grants.  This year, VMS communities served by CSX Transportation rail lines were eligible for a match of up to $5,000 from the corporation, pushing the awards from $2,500 to a total of $7,500. 

Waynesboro and Winchester will receive CSX Transportation VMS Downtown Improvement Grants. Communities receiving VMS Downtown Improvement Grants are Berryville, Blackstone and Marion. The discrete projects must be completed by December of this year and were selected due to their capacity for impact, the level of volunteer involvement and the degree to which they leverage additional resources.  The following projects were selected from among the 17 submitted:

Waynesboro:  A downtown riverside observation deck along a key section of the South River will strengthen the connection between the community, the district, regional outdoor recreation and quality of life strategies. Several river access facilities and greenway trail resources intersect at the site.  ($7,500)

Winchester:  A flexible staging platform will be developed and purchased as part of a coordinated events strategy for Old Town Winchester. The professional staging system will create an enhanced audience experience at community events and performances.  ($7,500)

Berryville:  A downtown design improvements project furthers recommendations by the Virginia Main Street architect to engage property owners in simple district improvements. Grant products will include planters, a door improvement contest and a wayfinding kiosk. ($2,500)

Blackstone:  A historical markers project engages property owners, local historians and the Town in identifying and communicating the stories of the historical assets that shape this historic commercial district. ($2,500)

Marion:  A largely volunteer based “Big Surprise” façade improvement program will dramatically improve the appearances of three buildings, two of which are owned by local nonprofits. In a quick burst of activity, old facades will be removed, with basic improvements begun over the weekend.  ($2,500)

Blackstone featured as an escape destination in Washington Post

Downtown Blackstone was given the travel treatment by the Washington Post in Friday’s edition.  In her article featuring the Robert Thomas Carriage Museum, writer Becky Krystal toured the town and several other important assets, such as Schwartz Tavern and the Virginia United Methodist Assembly Center.

The Robert Thomas Carriage Museum has more than two dozen horse-drawn vehicles, including a Victoria, which the wealthy used for rides in the park. (Becky Krystal/The Washington Post)

The review: positive, and in important ways as well.  In her overnight visit she got a sense not only of the visitor sites, but of the solid work this Main Street community has been doing and where they’re headed. 

“There’s a fair share of vacant storefronts in this town of about 3,600,” she wrote, “but given its friendly residents and beautiful facades, the future holds promise.”

But don’t take her word for it:  use the National Park Service Historic Itinerary to plan your own visit to historic Blackstone.

Blackstone holiday events keep local elves busy

Downtown Blackstone, Inc. (DBI) has been full of activity this holiday season, successfully coordinating retail promotions and image building events.

The Second Annual Downtown Holiday Open House kicked off the season November 27. Following the Grand Illumination in the town park, DBi drew crowds into downtown by coordinating activities with the local merchants, such as carriage rides, choral groups, storefront decorating, and a drawing at the locally owned Bevell’s Hardware, where the premier model train and Christmas village were on display.  A “Win the Window” contest capped the event with 27 businesses contributing gifts valued at more than $2,000. The event highlighted the local shops while creating a wonderland sense of nostalgia.

Bevell's Hardware holiday train display

DBI closed the holiday event season with the image-building Blackstone Christmas Parade on December 11.

DBI partnered with the Town of Blackstone, Chamber of Commerce, the Volunteer Fire Department and local businesses to organize 15 dazzling floats fit for marching bands, beauty queens, fire trucks and, of course, Santa.

Each event drew close to 2,000 people to downtown Blackstone, a fantastic turn-out to promote the downtown and its merchants. DBi has continued to get out the word by posting photographs and videos of the holiday events through Flickr and YouTube. Check out their Web site for a calendar of events and links to these media postings: http://www.downtownblackstone.org/.