Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Re-defining The Main Street Organizations

The Main Street Organization was started by the National Historic Preservation Society as a program to reinvigorate the fledgling downtown districts. They take a Four Point Approach to revitalizing downtown business districts to create more sustainable and vibrant communities - Promotion, Organization, Design, and Economic Restructuring. Each of these principles are intended to create vitality within the community through programs events, and activities. What seems to be happening with the 10 official Main Street communities in Maine is that they at replicating the same programs instead of building individual events that cater to the characteristics and strengths of each town. Also, the different programs focus more on the tourism based events and marketing, rather than focusing on getting the local residents into downtown businesses rather than box stores and malls.

This latter issue should be reevaluated first. Who does the Main Street Organizations serve? Is it tourists? Business owners? Local residents? The ideas behind reviving the downtown districts are to create a community that can sustain itself economically whilst preserving the historic aestheticism. If the Maine Street organizations are more focused on shoppers and visitors from away, then they are not only missing out on fulfilling the mission of Main Street, but also on an economic opportunity. In a town like Bath there are 9,000 people - that's a lot of consumers. However, if the downtown revitalization organization is ignoring them, that's 9,000 consumers that are going to turn to Walmart, Target and other box stores. And once box stores start taking the money from the downtown, that's when the downtown's end up add ghost towns.

Even if the Main Street organizations did focus their marketing on local residents instead of visitors, there is still the problem with the Main Street events ignoring the individual social identities of the community they represent. When there are 10 Main Street organizations in Maine, one would expect to see 10 unique set of events and programs. A community like Skowhegan, which has a history steeped in mills and wood products, should have events that represent that history in order to speak to the residents. just like a community like Bath, which has a rich and long history in shipbuilding, should focus on that in their programs and events. When these communities start replicating programs, they start losing that piece of the mission - the piece that speaks to the local residents.

These two problems combined, along with a sense of elitism that can emerge between business owners and the organization, has distanced the Main Street program from its original mission. Revitalizing the downtown districts is supposed to make them a more economic viability for the community, an answer to the revenue drain off box stores. The program is also supposed to promote what makes the community unique, so as to create a sense of pride among its residents. When people feel pride for the places they live, and a responsibility to its success, they will do more for the community, get more involved and help to create a stable economy.

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