Main Street FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions About the Main Street Approach


How does the Main Street Program work locally?

Main Street programs are locally driven, funded, organized, and run. They are independent nonprofits or city agencies located in the community and are usually affiliated with the state, city, or regional coordinating Main Street organization and a network of other Main Street organizations within the state. The statewide or citywide coordinating Main Street organization generally has an application process through which a community can be designated as a Main Street program. The coordinating organizations provide direct technical services, networking, and training opportunities to their affiliated programs. See a listing of all state, regional, and city Main Street Coordinating Programs.

How Do I Start a Main Street Program in My Community? 

Typically, interest in developing a local Main Street program comes from business or property owners, city government, bankers, civic clubs, the chamber of commerce, historic preservationists, or other civic-minded groups. They contact the appropriate coordinating Main Street organization to find out about the application process, discuss goals, establish an organization (Main Street programs are usually independent, nonprofit organizations), raise money to hire a full-time Main Street director, and create volunteer committees and a board of directors to carry out the work. Once the program has been established, its participants examine the commercial district's needs and opportunities and develop a long-term, incremental strategy based on the Main Street Four-Point Approach to strengthen the district's commercial activity and improve its buildings. The National Main Street Center provides consulting services, support, training, materials, and information to assist a revitalization organization throughout its growth.

Who should be involved in the local Main Street program?

Everyone with a stake in the commercial district and its future should be involved. Merchants, property owners, the chamber of commerce, industries, local government, and residents all benefit from a healthy local economy and from a historic core that reflects the community's heritage and personality. Sound partnerships are crucial to the Main Street program's success. In fact, a 1988 study of successful downtown revitalization programs in America, conducted by the National Main Street Center and the Urban Land Institute, found that programs funded primarily by local sources were much more likely to succeed than those that relied heavily on state or federal funds. It is also important for both the public and private sectors to support the program financially, thereby demonstrating their commitment to its goals.

How do I apply the Main Street Four-Point Approach® to my community?

The National Main Street Center offers a variety of resources and publications to help guide your local revitalization efforts. It also sponsor the National Main Streets Conference that offers excellent learning and networking opportunities. You can network with and learn from other Main Street communities' experiences by joinging the National Main Street Network. NMSC also provides consulting services to provide direct assistance to your community.

Am I the right person to start this program? How can I get others interested?

Your Main Street's revitalization starts with you! Main Street programs around the nation are started by ordinary, concerned citizens who work with others in the community to reach a common goal. To get started, gather as much information as possible and spark interest among community groups that have a stake in the future of your commercial corridor: local government, chamber of commerce, historic preservation groups, etc.  Put together a task force to plan the next steps. Contact your Main Street Coordinating Program to learn the process for applying in your state or city. If there are other local Main Street programs nearby, talk to them about their successes and challenges. If there is an active downtown organization in your community, join it and present your ideas on preservation-based revitalization. See Getting Started for more information.

Who pays for the Main Street program? Is it a grant?

No. Financial support for the program comes from the local entities that have a stake in the downtown: city government, merchants, businesses, and the public. The success of the Main Street program over the years lies in the fact that it is a local initiative, both organizationally and financially. When there is local buy-in, people care more about the success of the program and become more involved.

How long does a local Main Street program last?

Commercial revitalization is an ongoing process. Just as shopping centers and malls have full-time staff that work constantly to ensure proper leasing, management, and marketing, downtown and neighborhood commercial districts need ongoing attention, too. To ensure continuing economic success, Main Street programs are ongoing.

What assistance is available to establish and manage a local Main Street program?

Assistance is available in the forms of technical services, networking, training, and information. The Center can provide direct fee-for-service technical assistance to cities and towns, both independently and in conjunction with state and citywide Main Street programs. Statewide and citywide coordinating programs also provide these types of assistance. 

What if my state does not have a statewide Main Street organization?

Some states do not have coordinating Main Street programs. If you check the Coordinating Program listing and find no statewide program, you can still initiate your own independent Main Street organization. 

How can my community obtain direct, on-site help from the National Main Street Center?

Visit our Consulting Services page to see how we can help your community directly. In many cases, the National Main Street Center works directly with a Main Street Coordinating Program to provide technical assistance to their designated communities. As always, we encourage communities to begin their own Main Street programs locally, whether or not they can afford the Center's services. 

Is joining the Main Street Network Membership Program the same as becoming a Main Street organization?

No. Although the terminology is similar, they are two different processes. The Center offers the National Main Street Network Membership to provide information and benefits to any individual, agency, or organization interested in preservation-based commercial district revitalization. For an annual subscription of $250, members receive a weekly e-newsletter, access to member's only information, and other benefits. Being designated as a Main Street program by a Main Street coordinating program is a completely different process, which requires an application to that coordinating organization. In order to call yourself a Main Street organization in most states, you must be designated by the coordinaing program. In states without coordinating programs, communities may self-initiate an independent program. Learn more about use of the name "Main Street."

We are not ready to apply to our Coordinating Main Street program for designation. Is there anything else we can do?

Yes. You can encourage local leaders, planning agencies, economic development agencies, city government, businesses, and individuals to apply the Main Street Approach to what they are doing now. Persuade them to view traditional commercial buildings as an asset to your community and to see the downtown or neighborhood commercial district as an area full of opportunity to renew your community's sense of identity, history, and place. You can also view case studies in our resources section and bring them to the attention of community leaders.