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The National Main Streets Center

June 27, 2015


Excerpts from the Main Streets Center website.

We all know where our Main Streets are, but do we know what they are and why they matter? Whether they are named First Avenue or Water Street or Martin Luther King Boulevard, what they represent is universal. Main Streets are the traditional center for social, cultural, and economic activity for their communities. They are the big stage, the core of the community. Our Main Streets tell us who we are and who we were, and how the past has shaped us. We do not go to bland suburbs or enclosed shopping malls to learn about our past, explore our culture, or discover our identity. Our Main Streets are the places of shared memory where the entire community still comes together to live, work, and play.

So what is Main Street?  When we talk about the Main Streets movement, we are thinking of real places doing real work to revitalize their communities and preserve their character. Specifically, the Main Street Center movement is three things: a proven strategy for revitalization, a powerful network of linked communities, and a national support program that leads the field.

Established in 1980 as a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Main Street Center works with a nationwide network of coordinating programs and local communities to encourage preservation-based community revitalization and economic development.  It has equipped more than 2,000 older commercial districts with the skills, and organizing framework they need for renewal during its more than 35-year history.

The National Main Street Center, an independent organization as of 2013, provides information and technical assistance, holds conferences and workshops, and conducts research and advocacy on critical revitalization issues – often in conjunction with Main Streets state coordinators. The proven Main Street Four-Point Approach provides a framework for communities to organize themselves for success, improve the design of their neighborhoods, promote their district, and enhance the economic base of a community ~ a sustainable and complete community revitalization effort.


Organization_LaramieWY_finalOrganization establishes consensus and cooperation by building partnerships among the various groups that have a stake in the commercial district: residents, businesses, organizations, and the government. The most effective Main Street programs get everyone working toward the same goal. A governing board of directors and standing committees make up the fundamental organizational structure of volunteer-driven revitalization programs. Volunteers are coordinated and supported by a paid program director. This structure not only divides the workload and clearly delineates responsibilities, but also builds consensus and cooperation among the various stakeholders.


Promotion_OberlinOH_FinalPromotion takes many forms, but the goal is to create a positive image that will renew community pride and tell your Main Street story to the surrounding region. The techniques taught, and the variety of tools at your disposal, will help to rekindle the vitality of your community. Promotions communicate your commercial district’s unique characteristics, its cultural traditions, architecture, and history and activities to shoppers, investors, potential business and property owners, and visitors.


Design_CharlestonWV_finalDesign means getting Main Street into top physical shape and preserving a place’s historic character, creating an inviting environment for shoppers, workers, and visitors. Successful Main Streets take advantage of the visual opportunities inherent in a commercial district by directing attention to all of its physical elements: public and private buildings, storefronts, signs, public spaces, parking areas, street furniture, public art, landscaping, merchandising, window displays, and promotional materials.  Popular design activities also include maintenance practices, rehabilitation of historic buildings, encouraging appropriate new construction, developing sensitive design management systems, educating business and property owners about design quality, and long-term planning.

Economic Revitalization

ER_FerndaleMI_finalThrough economic restructuring, you can learn how to strengthen your community’s existing economic assets while diversifying its economic base. Successful communities accomplish this by providing a balanced commercial mix, sharpening the competitiveness and merchandising skills of business owners, and attracting new businesses that the market wants and can support. Many Main Street programs also achieve success through creative reuse of historic properties. Converting unused or underused commercial space into economically productive property also helps boost the profitability of the district. The goal is to build a commercial district that responds to the needs of today’s residents and consumers while maintaining the community’s historic character.

Cumulatively, commercial districts taking part in the Main Street program have spurred the rehabilitation of more than 251,000 buildings, and generated $61.7 billion in new investment, with a net gain of more than 528,557 new jobs, and over 125,000 new businesses. Every dollar a community uses to support its local Main Street program leverages an average of $18 in new investment, making Main Street one of the most successful economic development strategies in America. These community benefits would not be possible without the training, education, and leadership of the National Main Street Center.

Main Street offers a revitalization framework appropriate for communities of all types – including commercial districts in urban neighborhoods, rural towns, and smaller and mid-sized cities.

Ready to get started in your town?  The Main Streets Center has a Getting Started overview, and then it’s probably best to start by contacting your State Coordinator. The steps vary in each town, so don’t be daunted by the Getting Started overview!  (We’re working with the CA Main Streets Alliance for Fairfax, CA.)

Wondering why Main Streets need our attention: What happened to Main Streets?
Content for this post was pulled from the Main Streets Center website.

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