The Heart of the Revitalization Process: Community Engagement

Warrenton has earned more than 25 years of wisdom as a Virginia Main Street Designated Community. In 2017, their Main Street program celebrated a reboot, a new “booster club” and mantra:  Experience Old Town Warrenton.  To get there, the first thing the community leaders did was invite all stakeholders to be proactive participants in the downtown’s future.  The meeting was so well attended that Virginia and National Main Street staff, as well as town employees, were scrambling to accommodate the standing-room-only crowd. This effort launched a wave of community interest that rippled into volunteer commitments and a meaningful program direction.  The future is bright and the board is feeling it!

“The Main Street Approach situates community engagement at the heart of the revitalization process…it always reflects the input, wisdom, and perspective of local leaders, business owners, and residents.” – Main Street America’s Community Engagement for Main Street Transformation Guide

Warrenton used multiple platforms to reach a diverse audience including an online vision survey and a facilitated public meeting – but each community should look for the tools that will be most effective for reaching their stakeholders.  Don’t be afraid to be creative! Main Street America recently rolled out a new resource to strengthen your efforts, Community Engagement for Main Street Transformation.  It provides a practical framework and includes actionable tools to put to use in your own community.  It will help you:

  • Get to know your stakeholders and future partners;
  • Celebrate the different voices in your community;
  • Generate ideas for the best solutions to the greatest challenges; and
  • Celebrate your accomplishments!

Preempt STP Syndrome, the Same Ten People making all the decisions and doing all the work, and visit the  Main Street America’s Resources Center >>


Guest Blogger: Jennifer Heyns on Warrenton’s Emerging Latitudes

When people shop locally, they know they are helping to support their community and the shop owners who live there. At Warrenton’s Latitudes Fair Trade, shoppers know they are supporting not only a local business, but also artisans from developing countries around the world.

Latitudes buys handcrafted items from overseas either directly or through a wholesale distributer, ensuring that much of the profit reaches the hands of the original creator. Each item it sells is unique, with deep cultural ties to its country of origin. It not only sells jewelry, scarves, and bags, but also practical household items such as baskets, vases, and table linens.

Latitudes owner Lee Owsley is proud to support artists in less-fortunate countries. Her business allows both buyers and sellers to feel good, she says, because “instead of improving their lives and the lives of their children via handouts or illegal means, these producers are able to live with the self-respect of knowing they are engaged in an honest and fulfilling enterprise.” She believes each item sold represents an artist digging himself out of poverty with dignity.

Latitudes ties the community of Warrenton with communities from around the world—economically and culturally. In Warrenton, it represents the community’s own entrepreneurial spirit. Owsley is a fulltime teacher, who started her business with a temporary store set up for the holiday season. She partnered with a full-time artist in sharing the space. “It really helped me to feel that I wasn’t alone in this,” said Owsley, who advises anyone hesitant about opening a shop to find others who can help with costs, labor and courage.

For more information about the store and the artisans it helps to support, please visit their Web site at

Downtown remains the holiday gathering place

Traditional holiday events continue to draw crowds downtown this year in spite of the bone-chilling weather experienced in many parts of the commonwealth.

Last Friday, Rocky Mount’s “Come Home to a Franklin County Christmas,” had its largest turnout yet as guests enjoyed music, food, and shopping with vendors and merchants.  “The horse-drawn carriage rides and the miniature horse and buggy rides for the youngsters were both big hits,” Barbara Chauncey, a volunteer with the Community Partnership for the Revitalization of Rocky Mount told the Franklin News-Post. The temperature was in the thirties, but that didn’t stop children from lining up for the Department of Recreation’s build-a-bear event.

In Staunton, the traditional holiday festivities included the annual parade–this year with a rock and roll theme–and a new character on the scene–Elfis, a rockin’ elf  who encourages shopping locally by handing out Staunton Downtown Development Association giftcards. 

Nothing says tradition in the holidays like a gingerbread house, and Old Town Manassas does that up right.  View the results of their 15th annual Gingerbread House Competition.  In Warrenton, the GumDrop Square  tradition continues with a series of events throughout late Novemember and early December.

Main Street proves itself again this year as a location for business and a community gathering place during the holidays, and there’s still time to get out and enjoy some downtown traditions. Try Waynesboro’s Christmas in River City on Friday evening, the 17th, and First Night Winchester on the Loudoun Street Mall on New Year’s Eve.

Main Street Merchant Profile: Red Truck Bakery

The November/December issue of Preservation magazine features a first-hand account from this week’s Main Street Merchant — Old Town Warrenton’s Brian Noyes (“The Truck Stops Here“).  Mr. Noyes, a pasty chef (and former Preservation art director) owns the Red Truck Bakery, a rehabilitated 1921 Esso filling station.

The pastries have been written up in the New York Times. The bakery’s dining area (a former garage bay) features a communal table made of salvaged antebellum barn wood. And yes, there really is a red truck (a 1951 Ford F-100).

Read the article to hear why a historic structure was the only real option for this destination business, visit their blog or website, or better yet, take a drive to Warrenton to experience this gas station revitalization effort first hand.

Guest Blogger: Warrenton’s Charla L. Malone on Main Street’s ambush-style makeover

Today, we are obsessed with makeovers.  On television, everything is given a chance for dramatic overhaul, from houses and children’s behavior to 18-wheelers and, of course, the face. Wouldn’t it be great to harness that interest and use it to motivate more people to walk your Main Street?

The Partnership for Old Town Warrenton did just that by having Salon Emage Day Spa do an Ambush Style Makeover at their June 1st Fr!day event.

The concept is simple: interested persons pick-up a “Make Me Over” sticker at designated places. The makeover team scopes out everyone wearing stickers and picks someone; then, the makeover begins!

“Around 6:30 that evening the Salon Emage Style Team picked Sarah Smarelli from the crowd to have her hair cut and makeup done. The entire makeover took place on Main Street… Sarah had grown her hair out but was ready for it to be shorter. 

Sarah loved her new looked, especially the false eyelashes! Hair for the Ambush Style Makeover was by Salon Emage Style Team hair stylist, Jody Coppock… Makeup was done by Salon Emage Style Team makeup artist, Charla Malone… ”  (from the Partnership’s June Newsletter)

Sarah Smarelli's 1st Fr!day transformation. Click the picture for more images.

Due to the threat of severe thunder storms that evening, only 20 stickers had been given out when the model was picked. However, the makeover was well received and it created a great buzz for Salon Emage Day Spa, so they are committed to doing one for each 1st Fr!day. This event kept people milling around on Main Street to see the big reveal, which is also good for other merchants.

How’d they do it?

1. The Partnership sent e-mail blasts to the community.

2. Event Chair, Women of Wonder Fauquier, sent e-mails and posted information on their Web site. At the event, their booth gave out the “Make Me Over” stickers.

3. Salon Emage Day Spa provided makeover materials and personnel. They made the “Make Me Over” stickers and promoted the event.

Some things to consider:

Name:  “Ambush Makeover” is The Today Show’s, so change it up a bit.

Location:  You’ll need electricity, high pedestrian traffic, and good light.

Stickers:  Make ’em neon and big!

Sticker Distribution:  Allow a period of time for sticker distribution and specify a “model picking” time, so that interested persons will be on Main Street. Get many merchants involved in handing out stickers to get people in their doors!