Director’s Column

What’s New in Main Street Now

Download Main Street News PDF 2010/01_02

Like most Americans, Main Street leaders and entrepreneurs were happy to close the door on 2009, if not the entire decade. And like most of America, our Main Street programs have coped with changes of every color and stripe – from economic impacts to social trends – and we are succeeding on just about every level.

When we take the pulse of our network this month with the annual National Main Street Trends Survey, we expect to hear some interesting stories from 2009. Yes, many districts saw business closings and many organizations faced funding challenges. But if last year's survey is any indication, we also expect to hear even more "against all odds" tales of mom & pop's – and Main Street programs – hanging tough and getting clever. Innovation, a hallmark of the Main Street Approach® since our founding 30 years ago, is alive and well in our Main Street districts, thanks to the resilience and creativity of our professionals and volunteers on the ground.

Perhaps the most dramatic and promising shift in the last year has been in the area of communications, with social media –  e-mail communications, Facebook pages, Google directories, and other electronic formats – leading the way and enabling local organizations to recruit volunteers, raise money, promote events, connect leaders, and keep Main Street in the public eye.

"Becoming Main Street 2.0," as the theme for our 2009 National Main Streets Conference, has inspired more than a few local and state programs to ramp-up their social media networks, with some amazing results. Take, for example, the outstanding work in Washington State, where a coalition of local managers was able to quickly mobilize friends of Main Street across their vast state in support of the coordinating program.

"The theme of the 2009 National Main Streets Conference was very timely for our Main Street network in Washington State," says Timothy Bishop, executive director of the Ellensburg Downtown Association. "At the conference we learned about new social media tools and were able to put them in place just in time to create an advocacy effort to save our state program from elimination. We created a Facebook page that attracted 500 people within seven days and used Twitter to attract journalists from all over the country.  In fact, it was a full two weeks before we needed to send a traditional news release because we attracted so much media attention from our Facebook page and tweets. The National Main Streets Conference gave us tools that we never knew we would need so much."

There's no doubt that this "new media" is rapidly being embraced by the public and by Main Street programs, yet it is only a part of the picture. Traditional channels of communication – such as print publications, newsletters, and books – are evolving to fill important needs and leverage emerging opportunities.

At the National Trust Main Street Center, we now look at communication as a multi-channel process that we orchestrate through an integrated "editorial process" that can link and leverage both traditional and electronic outreach and information. As a result, we reach our network on an annual, monthly, weekly, and daily basis. At the same time, we are rethinking both the content and format of every channel, including our widely acclaimed and long-lived Main Street News!

As you've probably already noticed, our journal has a bold, new look, with a fresh layout and format – now expanded from a 16-page monthly to a 32-page bi-monthly magazine. More importantly, our flagship print publication has a new role: to focus on emerging best practices and trends in the field. And finally, to reflect our new direction, our publication has a new name: Main Street NOW.

We're excited about the coming year and decade, and are committed to helping you – the Main Street professional – innovate and thrive, using every communication channel possible to share what is new on Main Street now.