An Evening on the Bridge: Luray’s Hometown Fundraiser

Our guest blogger is Luray Downtown Initiative (LDI) Executive Director Meredith Dees.  She is a Luray native and recently returned after a career experience in Denver, CO overseeing regional retail operations for a yoga brand. 

Any Main Street manager will tell you that as soon as they hear the words “road construction” or “street closures” they become uneasy. We have a large project that has loomed over downtown Luray for some time. The days are finally numbered when we will replace our distressed 70 year-old bridge (c. 1934) connecting East and West Main Street. The local economy is heavily impacted by tourism, so our small downtown needs to capitalize on every single car full of visitors and leave them with an uplifting, memorable experience.

How do we bring positive energy to the reality that we are closing down the streets for several months and host a successful, charitable fundraiser and bridge-honoring celebration all in one night?  The Evening on the Bridge idea was born.

This event was a cross between a farm-to-table soiree and a family-style community gathering. Two hundred tickets were sold out at $75 each; no small feat in a town this size (population 5,000). We hoped for 10 sponsors and ended up with 17, several had never sponsored us before and many from community members that just wanted to show support!

We seated 200 locals down the center of the 123 foot-long bridge. Luray-based caterers and bakeries provided dinner and desserts and all of the drinks were also local, including wine and beer, as well as a signature “1934” cocktail crafted by our own distillery. Big band music played in the background and lights were strung overhead to create the perfect setting.

We highlighted the new design and paid homage to the historic bridge with speakers and pictures. There was a live auction, including a donated original art piece of the bridge by a local artist that took top dollar. Overall, we raised more than $15,000 (net revenue!) for Main Street and proceeds will fund newly branded light pole banners.

The only question I have received since the event, “when can we do it again?” And I cannot wait!

See a video of the event here >>>

An Evening on the Bridge, Luray Downtown Initiative, November 5, 2017



Mountains 2 Main Streets

M2M multi-color large.jpg

** Guest blogger Katey Warren, Tourism PR specialist, Harrisonburg Tourism and Visitor Services 

The tourism offices and downtown Main Street partners of Harrisonburg, Luray and Waynesboro, along with Massanutten Resort and Shenandoah National Park, have banded together to create the Mountains 2 Main Streets Passport Program, a regional initiative that engages and rewards Shenandoah Valley visitors.

The goal of the Mountains 2 Main Streets Passport Program is to entice visitors to “take the roads less traveled” and explore the many attractions that this area of the Shenandoah Valley, and particularly, its Main Streets, has to offer. To do this, the passport program rewards visitors for dining, shopping and staying in participating businesses within Harrisonburg, Luray, Waynesboro, and Massanutten Resort.

Here’s how it works:

Step 1: Get your passport. Request one online at or grab one at participating visitor centers.

Step 2: Plan your stay. Use the Mountains 2 Main Streets website to explore lodging, dining, shopping and activities available in the participating areas. These businesses are also marked with a Mountains 2 Main Streets window decal and are ready to stamp your passport upon your arrival.

Step 3: Explore and Get Stamped. From the beauty and splendor of Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park, to the endless activities at Massanutten Resort, to the charming downtown districts of Harrisonburg, Luray and Waynesboro, you will find endless opportunities to get your passport stamped while enjoying the area.

Step 4: Send in Your Passport. Once you have received four stamps from at least two different localities on your passport, send it in for your chance to win one of four quarterly getaway packages back to the Shenandoah Valley.

To learn more about the Mountains 2 Main Streets Passport Program and to request a passport online, visit


Historic Preservation on Main Street

Building being demolished in Culpeper due to earthquake damage in 2011. Photo source:

Historic building being demolished in Culpeper after 2011 earthquake. Photo source:

Last fall a 9,000-square-foot commercial building was demolished in the heart of a Main Street district in Virginia to create more parking. The loss of the building permanently erased a piece of the architectural history and character of the historic downtown. It also opened up a 35-foot-long hole in the urban fabric of the historic district and may have increased the cost of creating future commercial and residential uses on the parcel, uses that are critical to the vitality of every downtown.  The demolition sent an estimated 800 tons of debris to the local landfill, reduced the property taxes contributed by the parcel to the local government by two-thirds, created no new businesses or jobs and added no new residents or employees to the downtown. In short, the demolition permanently removed a valuable asset from the Main Street district, and the hole in the street front will likely prove to be a long-term drag to the economic revitalization of the downtown.

Historic preservation is a cornerstone of the Main Street approach to downtown revitalization. Virginia’s historic downtowns were never islands unto themselves, but were, rather, once the hubs of economic and cultural activity in their regions. As such, they were the focus of a tremendous amount of financial investment and cultural expression by the residents of the regions surrounding the downtowns. The result is the unique historic architecture and pedestrian-friendly commercial districts that characterize Virginia’s Main Street communities.

The preservation of these unique built environments maintains the cultural and economic hearts of Virginia’s Main Street districts and provides substantial economic benefits to local communities. Despite some losses, Virginia’s Main Street organizations are working with property owners to preserve, rehabilitate and reuse the historic built assets in their downtowns.

Example of facade design assistance provided by Frazier Associates.

Example of facade design assistance provided by Frazier Associates.

Walk through any Main Street community and you will see refurbished facades with new paint, re-exposed store windows, repaired brickwork and new awnings. Local Main Street organizations facilitated many of these improvement projects with design assistance funded by VMS and provided to private property owners by Frazier Associates. Many property owners just need design assistance and are able to fund the façade improvements themselves while others take advantage of façade improvement grant and loan programs like those in Hopewell, South Boston and Fredericksburg.

With funding from VMS, Bedford, Bristol, Luray, Lynchburg, Marion, Martinsville, South Boston, St. Paul, and Waynesboro have developed financial feasibility studies for major historic, vacant or underused buildings in their Main Street districts. These organizations worked with owners of large “white elephant” buildings in the Main Street district to develop preliminary engineering and architecture reports, market demand studies for proposed reuses of the buildings and financial assistance packages. Prepared with this valuable information, the Main Street organizations are working to find potential property developers who can return these buildings to their status as major downtown assets.

Some Main Street organizations have even taken on ownership of historic buildings in order to save them from demolition until the right property developer could be located. Three years ago, after one of South Boston’s final three remaining tobacco warehouses burned and a second was demolished and sold off for the value of its bricks, the New Brick Warehouse, built in 1900, the last standing tobacco warehouse in South Boston, was also slated to be sold off for bricks.

Saving the historic warehouse from demolition was a high priority for Destination Downtown South Boston (DDSB), South Boston’s Main Street organization. DDSB convinced the building’s owner that there was more financial gain in donating the building to DDSB, a 501-C-3 non-profit organization, for a charitable donation tax deduction than there was in demolishing and selling off the bricks. Working with Preservation Virginia and the town government, the Main Street organization found a developer who was able to preserve the building and rehabilitate it for market rate downtown housing, which is in short supply in South Boston. The $2.6 million New Brick Historic Lofts will open January 2014, adding more than 20 new, market-rate housing units to downtown South Boston and preserving a piece of architectural tobacco heritage that is unique and authentic to South Boston.

We took on ownership of the New Brick Warehouse in order to save the last standing tobacco warehouse from being demolished, and we’ve been very picky in making sure that anyone we sell the building to has to adhere to the Secretary of the Interior’s Rehabilitative Standards because that was our main goal – to preserve its historic character. We ended up with the ideal project — our developers will be utilizing tax credits, which require historic standards, so we get to preserve the building as well as get 22 market-rate apartments in downtown.” – Tamyra Vest, Executive Director of Destination Downtown South Boston

Bringing New Businesses to Main Street

Business opening in Marion's Main Street District.

Business opening in Marion’s Main Street District.

Retaining and growing existing businesses and encouraging the development of new businesses are primary goals of every Main Street organization. Here is how some of Virginia’s Main Street communities are working to strengthen and diversify their downtown business communities.

Marion Downtown Revitalization Association (MDRA) is wrapping up the third round of its “Pop-Up Marion” Small Business Boot Camp. Partnering with Wells Fargo, People Inc., Virginia Main Street and the Virginia Department of Business Assistance, MDRA’s boot camp includes a Business Basics 101, where budding entrepreneurs learn all the ins and outs of starting their own small business, develop their own business plan, and compete for up to $5,000 in startup grant funds to open their business in Marion. Grant funding is available to offset rent/mortgage and utility expenses for up to six months. Winners of this year’s “Pop-Up Marion” competition will be announced on Oct. 31. More than 100 area entrepreneurs have participated in Marion’s Boot Camp training and at least three new businesses have already received grant funds to help open their doors in Marion’s Main Street district.

For the first time, Farmville Downtown Partnership offered a four-week course this October designed to instruct new entrepreneurs about doing business in Farmville. Co-sponsored by Longwood Small Business Development Center, Farmville Downtown Partnership, the Farmville Area Chamber of Commerce and the town of Farmville, the BBC: Business Boot Camp is a three-phase program that instructs, encourages and tests new entrepreneurs wanting to open their businesses in downtown Farmville. Following graduation from the four-week training course and the completion of a business plan, participants will be encouraged to compete for a space in next spring’s Pop-Up Downtown Farmville program. The Pop-Up program will provide a temporary space for the businesses to operate during April, May and June of 2014. After getting a chance to visit the Pop-Up businesses in action, a review board and downtown visitors will vote to determine the winner of the Pop-Up competition at the end of June 2014. The winner will receive a start-up grant from Farmville Downtown Partnership to help the business permanently establish itself in the Main Street district.

The city of Waynesboro, Waynesboro Downtown Development, Inc. and Staunton Creative Community Fund are co-hosting Jumpstart Waynesboro: Ignite® Your Business Contest on Oct. 22 and Nov. 12. These events will follow the Ignite format, limiting speakers to five minutes, 20 slides and one creative business idea. The audience will vote on their favorite ideas, while providing constructive suggestions, resources and networks to the presenters. In addition to a People’s Choice Award, each night the city of Waynesboro will award a $7,000-first-place prize and a $4,000-second-place prize to help launch Ignite-inspired business concepts in Waynesboro.

In addition to these initiatives, Believe in Bristol provides support to downtown entrepreneurs in its IdeaSpaceMartinsville Uptown Revitalization Association will soon finish its first Uptown Upstart Business Plan Competition. Lastly, micro-businesses are testing the waters on their Main Streets at the Luray Downtown Initiative  Market Collective and Altavista on Track’s Arts and Antiques incubator.

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 for more information.

Virginia’s Main Street in the news

The Sunday, April 5 edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch had several articles of note about Virginia Main Street communities.  First was an article about Abingdon’s latest downtown promotion, then an article about Page County’s (including Luray) attempt to be designated as the “Cabin Capital of Virginia.” Then yet another article, this one talking about the Lynchburg Museum’s new exhibits.

Lynchburg, Altavista and Manassas all were noted for their recent milestone acheivements.

An editorial in the Star Exponent of Culpeper extolls the signs of a strengthening economy as evidenced by the entrepreneurial spirit in Culpeper’s Historic Downtown.  The Martinsville Bulletin ran a story on another entrepreneur who is doing his part to revive a local economy hit hard by factory closings.

Lastly, at least for now, the Franklin News Post has an article on Rocky Mount’s uptown facade inprovement program.