What to Do When You're New to Main Street



When I first started working at the National Trust Main Street Center nine years ago, we had a different logo and even a slightly different name (National Main Street Center). I think it took me a full year to really get my head around both the complexity and the simple beauty of the Main Street Four-Point Approach®. We’ve noticed that there has been a lot of manager turnover lately within the local programs and new staff coming into our coordinating Main Street programs—and lots of new independent start-ups out there. Since I am proud to say that I am whiz at this stuff, I thought about some of the resources that helped me get my Main Street bearings, and wanted to share them with you.

Talking to Practitioners

Bar-none, nothing helped me understand the Four Points more than interviewing local program directors for articles. Granted this made sense because my job was initially to write for Main Street News (reborn as Main Street NOW). But you can do this, too. You can find out how comprehensive Main Street revitalization is and hear about creative approaches to achieving it by talking with your peers on the National Main Street Network Listserve. The Network is an amazing resource of people who are doing the exact same things you are—and you should participate in the dialog. (Log in to our website and click on the link to the listserve to set it up.)

Getting the Basics

Before my interview, I read and re-read the information about the Main Street Center and the methodology online. You can ask my boss, she was pretty impressed. This info will give you baseline knowledge about our history and the Four Points and the eight principles that guide work in the Main Street Approach.

SOTW_2-28-12_NewToMS_RMScoverYou’ll also understand what a “coordinator” is—(generally it's a “who”) our network of statewide, citywide, and countywide Main Street Coordinating Program Partners who help administer the program to the local communities since one, single national Center can’t handle 1,450 members by itself. To find out all about coordinating programs and see if there’s one in your state or city, check out our program listings.

While this didn’t exist at the time, I am pretty sure it would have been pretty helpful (I am slightly biased because I created it)—our book, Revitalizing Main Streets: A Practitioner’s Guide to Comprehensive Commercial District Revitalization, covers issues you will deal with under the Four Points from A to Z. But really, I developed it with you guys in mind, so I tried my best to make sure it hit the mark.

Understanding a GAMSA

A what? A GAMSA—a Great American Main Street Award winner. We have had some 80 winners since 1995 and they are true models for you to follow. They have stories like many of your communities—high vacancy rates, apathy, disheveled appearance, but (spoiler alert!) they all have happy endings. Their streets replaced weeds and potholes with landscaping, street furniture, new sidewalks, improved traffic patterns, and parking. Businesses have filled most, if not all, storefronts. Their community members came together and their municipalities are their biggest champions. They all had lessons learned and different work plans to get them there, and we tell you how it got done. Read their profiles online and search for the full articles in our Solution Center.

Keep Current with Trends

MSN_SeptOct11_Cover_WEBWe make this so easy for you. Linda Glisson and I produce the bi-monthly Main Street NOW journal, which if you are a Network member, gives you case studies, inspirational ideas, and feature stories that explore a wide variety of topics that makes learning a breeze. We’d be shocked if there wasn’t at least one thing that can help you or your volunteers do your jobs better.

New in the past year is our weekly e-newsletter, Main Street Weekly. MSW goes out to our Network members and is filled with news, resources, and funding leads related to the Main Street, community development, historic preservation, smart growth, and sustainability worlds.

I also tried to keep current with new ideas and trends by reading other journals and articles. Once RSS feeds were born, I started tracking online stories by using keywords like “Main Street” and tracking my favorite blogs and publications. I still do this, but now I share my favorites with you on the National Trust Main Street Center Facebook page and @NatlMainStreet twitter account. If you don’t “do” social media (and somebody save me if you don’t), you can find our feed at the bottom of the Main Street Center's homepage. You don’t even need to sign up.

Go to a National Main Streets Conference

SOTW_2-28-12_NewToMS_MSConfLogoYou all are wonderful people. And I really had to meet you face-to-face to understand who you are and what you do. You need to meet your peers and build a support network and hear their stories. And you need to commiserate and celebrate with people who get you. Talking to folks who do Main Street work is really your golden ticket to success because there is so much more behind the eight principles and Four Points and you won’t hear it unless you get into those side conversations. Not just that, but on the Sunday before our Main Streets Conference, we have a full day of Main Street fundamentals all thrown at you at once by NTMSC staff. You see how things start connecting—hearing it back-to-back really helps things crystallize. Then you get to attend tours and educational sessions to dig a little deeper into various topics. You also get examples and cool ideas from other practitioners so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. It’s just borrowing a good idea.

Speaking of Main Street Center Staff…

I am lucky because I can pick up the phone anytime and talk to my colleagues—our Field Services staff who we lovingly refer to as “Road Warriors” because these people seriously are never home. They are bonafide experts who know how to help you get started as well as take your program to the next level.

Of course there are more places to go for information (for example, working with your coordinating program and attending their trainings and conferences), but for your first year, this is what can help you get started. And I know, because it helped me.