The Shadows of Main Street

Reprinted with permission from The Girl on Main

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By this point, you know how much I love our Main Streets. There is something more than dear–something quintessential–about our Main Streets to our American heritage. They bring back a golden time of community and togetherness. They represent a location where people could come from their neighborhoods or their farms not just to shop, but to hear the latest gossip and goings-on of the town. Hence, while I love to shop and this blog is meant to encourage people to support their Main Street businesses, today I want to emphasize that Main Streets represent more than just economic prosperity: they represent quality of life.
Helping to drive and build that quality of life along with that economic prosperity are the shadows of Main Street. I call them shadows because many people within a community may not know that they exist. These shadows are our Main Street organizations, people who serve on a board together to aid in both the economic growth of our downtown locations and the building of community spirit and quality of life that Main Streets have always embodied. These people volunteer countless hours to ensure that our Main Streets do not die.

While larger cities may have Main Street organizations, these organization are especially vital to our smaller communities where city budgets may be limited in what they can do to develop our downtown areas, and where local governments would be hard-pressed to drum up the volunteers for the kind of events our Main Street organizations put on to bring the residents together in the heart of the community.

When I think about my own community, Claremore, Oklahoma, I would be sad not to have the events that bring out the warm smiles in the townspeople and that bring them into the Main Street shops, and I know my children would be equally so. After all, Claremore offers several to enhance the quality of life downtown.

One of the first events of the year is our St. Patrick’s Day Bangers and Mash. While not an all-day event, this lunch event brings out all ages of people to celebrate the wearing of the green with a lunch of bangers and mash and lively Irish music. The two-hour event culminates in a parade down Main Street.

The people of Claremore love this event so much that I have mingled out there with them in years when the day has been sunny and warm and in years when the day has been cold and blustery–so, blustery, in fact, that it was a wonder the tents stayed up.

Perhaps one of Claremore’s most popular events by far, though, is the long-standing Dickens on the Boulevard. Always the Friday and Saturday evenings before Thanksgiving, this event brings people out in droves. And why not? Where else can you have your picture taken with Santa Claus, visit the mysterious upper floors of our downtown buildings, learn a little bit of town history, see a living nativity, witness a shootout, drink some sarsaparilla in a saloon, take a carriage ride to the Belvidere Mansion, and dance the Virginia Reel, all while dressed in Victorian costume?

My children live for Dickens on the Boulevard. They start getting excited about it from the time I attend my first planning meeting for it. By the time the event actually rolls around, they already have their evening mapped out. And they’re not the only ones. Every November, I will get phone calls and texts from people confirming the dates for Dickens because their families have attended it every year and they don’t want to miss it.

See, it’s these types of events that Main Street organizations hold that help to bring the spirit of community to our downtown areas.

But Main Streets are more than that, too. They are also that behind-the-scenes support group for our merchants, because ultimately, without our merchants, there is no downtown. While these events bolster our sense of community, they also bring people into the stores. But Main Street organizations also help to facilitate communication and collaboration among merchants, too. Some even promote events that directly bring money into downtown stores. Claremore, for instance, hosts a cash mob. Every two months, 50 members of the community convene at the Chamber of Commerce building, where our Main Street office is located, draw the name of a downtown store and descend upon it en masse. When the members sign up for cash mob, they agree to participate for a year and to spend at least $20 at each location. It’s wonderful. Not only do the stores take in a minimum of $1,000, but the people shopping have a great time as well, browsing the store, sharing their finds with one another, and making great memories.

So, Girl on Main, this is all well and good, but why are you telling us about this? Why aren’t you doing a blog about stores on another Main Street? Well, the main reason is that when I moved to Claremore 10 years ago, there was precious little on our Main Street, and I have come to realize that had it not been for the hard work and effort of a particular group of people, I would not have been able to write my second blog entry. Certainly, Claremore has wonderful merchants who are starting to take the reigns and create their own draws to the downtown area, but those merchants probably wouldn’t be there if it hadn’t been for the growth initiated by Claremore Main Street. The same can be said of many communities, especially the small ones.

Sadly, these efforts go unnoticed, or there comes a point where some people feel like the service these organizations offer can be absorbed by other organizations. Perhaps in larger cities with the types of budgets it takes to completely overhaul a downtown district to revitalize it, this is true. But in our smaller communities, our Main Street organizations are vital, and these vital organizations are non-profits, which means they rely upon the financial support of others to do their jobs.

As a supporter and shopper of our downtown businesses, and somebody who does not want to see them wane as they did several decades ago, I thought it right to take a moment to bring this to light, to encourage you not only to support your downtown businesses, but also to support the shadows of Main Street that help to grow the economic development of these communities as well as develop the quality of life downtown. Obviously, attending events helps to support these organization, but so do your donations. Imagine, in the same way that 50 members of the Claremore community can help a local business bring in $1,000 in one night, if members of a community of 3,000 each donated $10 to their local Main Street organization, that organization would be able to add $30,000 to its budget, and think of how that could be invested back into the community.

If your local Main Street organization doesn’t have a donation link on their website, you can certainly contact them or send them a check. So if you enjoy your downtown district as much as I do mine, and you want to see those areas continue to thrive and grow, please, show them your support.

The Girl on Main
Rebekah Askew

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