Bringing Back Main Street

“Once you lose your historic downtown, it’s like heck to get it back,” says Bozeman, Montana’s Deputy Mayor Chris Mehl in a recent Next City article by Cinnamon Janzer.

Historic Main Streets across the country are working hard to keep their sense of place and their economic relevance. Some historic towns, like Bozeman, have formal five-point plans to preserve local vitality:

  1. Maintain downtown as the heart of the community.
  2. Focus on more than just the Main Street Historic District.
  3. Ensure that downtown is walkable and accessible.
  4. Design downtown to be welcoming to everyone.
  5. Connect downtown to both nature and culture.

Ellicott City is similarly hard at work preserving its sense of place and economic relevance, and like other towns across the country, the work involves far more than just rebuilding those historic structures that have been devastated by floods.

The work requires close partnerships between property owners, business owners, and County government, because as Patrice Frey, CEO of Main Street America observes, “[w]ithout that support, you can easily get a reputation of being [a place where it’s] difficult to get business done.”

Frey also observes that unlike large urban centers, “in most smaller places . . . gentrification is not the issue.” Instead, particularly with respect to housing, “creating some density means that it’s easier for the corner store and the local coffee shop to stay open — it’s a vital element.”

All of this holds true for Ellicott City as well. To keep Main Street alive, we need a business-friendly environment for employers and cultural institutions, we need sufficient housing stock to supply Main Street with a robust base of customers and employees, we need a historic district that is welcoming and accessible to all residents, and we need a surrounding commercial landscape that contributes to, not drains from, our Main Street businesses.

And as with everything that’s worth doing in life, maintaining a Main Street requires “a can-do spirit.” As one rural town in Mississippi realized, “we’re going to do it ourselves [because] if you wait for someone to help you, it will never happen.”

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