Traveling down to Florida to spend time with my parents allowed me to check out Main Streets in a variety of East Coast states. Based on what I see happening to Hudson Valley Main Streets, I would think that downtown districts are making a rebound everywhere. But that’s not the case.
For example, we passed a community in South Carolina (after getting off of the main highway for a while) that was completely boarded up. The buildings and storefronts were beautiful, but every store was closed—except for a gas station. So, what makes a village become vibrant?
At the heart of it is community desire—the people in the town must have a commitment to transformation and involvement. Main Street associations help make this happen, and we see examples of successful models from Woodstock to Ellenville, and from Red Hook to Beacon.
These organizations work on efforts to promote the town by attracting residents and visitors to the heart of town. Strong design elements, community identity, wayfinding (maps and directories), and special events keep people coming back, and the money that is spent continues to circulate through our communities.
Economic vitality is also a key to success. When people feel a sense of community, they tend to spend their money with their neighbors. These neighbors in turn spend their money locally, creating what is known as a multiplier effect. This kind of focus on local economy ensures that the money I spend will eventually come back to me.
When I first moved to Rosendale in 2001, most of the storefronts in town were vacant. Less than 15 years later, Main Street has been transformed into a successful commercial center, with colorful facades and lively businesses in almost every building.
It seems like what’s old is new again. Historically, people always gathered in town to share news and create bonds that lasted a lifetime. In these modern times, we’re shifting our focus back to Main Street—sharing art and information, laughing and singing, eating and drinking together, and finding true friendship. I wouldn’t want to live in any other time but right now, here with you.
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