Leading Main Street

A unique aspect of the National Main Street Network is the opportunity for leadership at every level. This year, the National Trust Main Street Center was pleased to recognize the Michigan Main Street Center and the Washington State Main Street Coalition for their innovative contributions to the Main Street movement. They were acknowledged during a special ceremony at the 2010 National Trust Main Streets Conference in Oklahoma City last month.

Michigan Main Street Center

When a few entrepreneurial Main Street leaders get in the same room, anything can happen.

Staff of the Michigan Main Street Center and Pace & Partners receive Main Street Leadership award for their exciting, innovative Buy Main Street video at the 2010 National Main Streets Conference in Oklahoma City. Photo credit: Linda S. Glisson

Last year at the Main Streets conference in Chicago, Joe Borgstrom of the Michigan Main Street Center, Cary Tyson of the Arkansas Main Street program, and Jeff Siegler of Heritage Ohio, agreed that there needed to be a video that explained, in a light-hearted way, the importance of supporting Main Street districts. They envisioned a message that would remind people of the many reasons why doing business on their local Main Streets is enjoyable – not a lecture, mind you, but rather a guilt-free message that informed and inspired.

Upon returning to Michigan, Joe and his staff discussed this idea with their marketing firm Pace & Partners (located in the great Michigan Main Street community of Old Town Lansing). Using the right words, upbeat music, and scenes from Michigan historic districts, the group captured the spirit of Main Street – the buildings, the shops, the people, the energy.

"Marshall, Old Town Lansing, Howell, and Niles put up with our film crew and were amazing hosts," says Joe Borgstrom, director of Specialized Technical Assistance & Revitalization Strategy for the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA). " Marshall's Diane Larkin was literally pulling people in walking by to get in a shot our crew thought would look good. "

Willing to share this great outreach tool with the larger Main Street network, Joe contacted the National Trust Main Street Center to work on a cobranded version of the video that Main Street programs throughout the United States could use to promote their districts. Pace and Partners adapted the original video for free and the Center worked on a campaign that would share this video nationally. This video hit home through television spots, e-mails, and social media tools like Facebook and Twitter. To download the "Buy Main Street" Video, click here.

Joe and the entire MSDHA and Main Street staff worked hard to find funding and the creativity to get the video idea off the ground and ensure a high-quality, professional final product. During his acceptance speech at the National Main Street Awards, Joe gave a shout-out to Pace & Partners for helping to make it happen. "Without them, none of us would have this video to help tell people what we all do for a living and what great places we get to serve."

The Center is thrilled to have such a creative partner in Michigan. It is not only a great resource for Michigan communities but also for Main Street towns throughout the United States. We appreciate their leadership and generosity as we take the Main Street message to the main stream!

The Washington State Main Street Coalition

In December, 2009, Washington Governor Chris Gregoire announced plans to eliminate funding for the Washington State Main Street Program in order to balance the state's budget. The coalition that formed to restore the funding included many local Main Street leaders and their community members who embraced the role of grassroots advocate – many for the first time. The Washington State Main Street Coalition organized quickly and worked successfully to get a bill supporting the statewide program introduced in both the House and the Senate during the second week of January. By the end of the short legislative session, all legislators understood the value of the Washington State Main Street Program and voted to move it to the Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation, thereby saving the program.

Main Street program managers from Washington State win a Main Street leadership award for their social media advocacy campaign which saved the Washington Main Street Program. Photo Credit: Linda S. Glisson

Dedicated local program managers from Bainbridge Island, Chelan, Ellensburg, Kennewick, Mount Vernon, Olympia, Port Angeles, Port Townsend, Puyallup, Walla Walla, Wenatchee, and the more than 80 affiliate Main Street programs in Washington State, led the charge with wise council and support from the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, National Trust Trustee Mary Thompson, and National Trust Advisors Horace H. Foxhall, Jr., and Michael Sean Sullivan.

"For nearly three months, our Main Street advocates remained focused on Olympia, tracking every committee deadline, vote, and step in the process, spreading the word about each victory and the next call to action along the way," explained former Ellensburg Main Street Manager Timothy Bishop.  "When the legislature worked through the weekend, so did Main Street; when the legislature met on Presidents Day and Valentine's Day, so did Main Street. "

Given the quick legislative session, successfully navigating the process and managing a well-organized effort that spurred hundreds of private citizens to act would be reason enough for national recognition. However, it was the innovative and inspiring use of social media to bind the leadership group, activate the public, and connect with media and decision makers that established a new paradigm for grassroots advocacy.

In December, the group quicklyl created an advocacy Facebook page to rally support, provide instant updates, and issue quick calls for action. On January 13, the page had more than 500 supporters, and soon exceeded 850 fans.

Bishop credits the Facebook page, as well as weekly conference calls, as a tool that "helped take the fear out of advocacy and empower our partners, providing sample scripts, key talking points, and a simple concise message that allowed veteran Main Street managers like Mari Mullen in Port Townsend, and Tim Dalton in Kennewick, to mobilize supporters at a moment's notice with the right message and a list of key legislators who needed to be contacted. "

The overwhelming public support and media blitz proved to be a winning combination. Even the bill's sponsor on the House floor said that he had never received so many e-mails in support of a single bill. The coalition's leadership paid off when the Main Street Bill passed the House in February and the Senate on March 2.

"For many of our newer Main Street managers, the state-wide advocacy effort helped solidify their own understanding of Main Street, and gave them the voice and the message needed to build support from local elected officials in their own communities, like Bainbridge Island and Mount Vernon," said Bishop.

The coalition's strategic and swift efforts, especially their innovative use of social media, are a model for any grassroots movement and an inspiration to all Main Street programs throughout the country  – especially those facing similar financial crises. By leveraging social media tools with traditional advocacy, this coalition demonstrated entrepreneurial leadership and has blazed a path for effective online advocacy.