National Main Streets Conference: 27 Years of Connecting, Sharing, Learning and Affirming


Way back in 1986 when the Main Street movement was still in its infancy, I had the opportunity to attend the very first National Town Meeting on Main Street in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  I was the Main Street program director in Grass Valley, CA at the time and was filled with anticipation and excitement about attending this very first national Main Streets conference!  What an amazing experience to attend a national conference on downtown development with 300 peers and colleagues from across the country.  I was in Main Street heaven!  Everyone was absorbed in what seemed like spontaneous energy and synergy celebrating what hopefully would become an annual event.   Little did I realize then that 28 years later I would hold the record as the only person to attend every National Main Streets Conference! 

That sense of anticipation and excitement resurfaces still today as we prepare to attend the 2014 National  Main Streets Conference in Detroit, MI next May 18 – 20.    Yes, the conference has grown to become the largest national preservation based historic commercial district event of the year.   Yes, Main Street has grown to include neighborhood commercial districts as well as historic downtowns.  But one thing that has not changed over the years are the four major benefits I receive from attending and participating in the conference.  They are:  CONNECTING, SHARING, LEARNING AND AFFIRMING. 


The National Main Streets Conference has always been an excellent opportunity to network with others just like me; to commensurate about our trials and tribulations and to celebrate each other’s successes.  When I was a local Main Street program director, it was a great way to meet program directors from other Main Street districts in towns of similar size.  By attending the conference repeatedly, I have been able to reconnect annually with an extended family of Main Streeters while continuing to make new connections. 


By attending sessions and meeting with attendees, I have been able to share in success stories, discuss challenges, hear about different solutions to address Main Street district challenges and share in the laughter of crazy and bizarre experiences that could only happen on Main Street.  One of the major lessons I learned early was that we are all in this together and through sharing we make the network stronger and our Main Street districts healthier!


Of course, one of the most important benefits I have received from attending the conference is that of learning.  There are scores of opportunities every year to learn from practitioners and professionals, direct from the field, about their experiences and how they have taken and molded the Main Street Four Point Approach® and the Eight Principles and forged successful pathways for healthier and more vibrant Main Streets.  It is also an excellent opportunity to learn about the most recent trends and strategies affecting our districts from the greening of Main Street to the lifestyle preferences of the next generation.  Because this conference offers dozens of learning opportunities, everyone should go home with numerous ideas and strategies to try.


One time a year for just a few short days, we have the opportunity to be immersed in an affirming, nurturing and supportive environment.  Surrounded by like minded people who believe that they can save the world, one Main Street district at a time.  Who have drunk the kool-aid known as the Main Street Approach®. Who speak the same language.  Who know what a façade-amie is, or what we mean when we say the mansard maniac struck our district thirty years ago.   Who understand the terms economic restructuring and festicating.  Every year we need this experience to charge our batteries so we can go back home and fight the good fight.  This annual affirmation feeds our soul.

So, yes, I am looking forward to seeing my colleagues and friends in Detroit next May.  I have been to Detroit numerous times over the years.  I am excited about the opportunity to see the GAMSA winning town of Ferndale and to experience the famous Eastern Market.  I know we will have a great time seeing the explosive renaissance of downtown Detroit.  One thing I have learned over the years, is that no matter the location, the four benefits of attending the conference are always there.  It will be time to feed our Main Street souls once again!  I hope you will join me in Detroit.  I look forward to seeing you there and to hearing from you what major benefits you receive by attending our great conference. 

27 Years of Great Memories:

1986 – Winston Salem, NC
1987 – Washington DC
1988 – no conference
1989 – Austin, TX
1990 – San Francisco, CA
1991 – Biloxi, MS
1992 – Tulsa, OK
1993 – Milwaukee, WI
1994 – Tampa, FL
1995 – Little Rock, AK
1996 – Nashville, TN
1997 – Portland, OR
1998 – Pittsburg, PA
1999 – San Diego, CA
2000 – Boston, MA
2001 – Indianapolis, IN
2002 – Ft. Worth, TX
2003 – Cincinnati, OH
2004 – Albuquerque, NM
2005 – Baltimore, MD
2006 – New Orleans, LA
2007 – Seattle, WA
2008 – Philadelphia, PA
2009 – Chicago, IL
2010 – Oklahoma City, OK
2011 – Des Moines, IA
2012 – Baltimore, MD
2013 – New Orleans, LA
2014 – Detroit, MI