Denison Main Street: 2020 Great American Main Street Award Semifinalist Spotlight


October 22, 2020 | 2020 Great American Main Street Award Semifinalist Spotlight: Denison Main Street

Revelers Hall Band plays on Heritage Park Stage during a recent Sidewalk Sale. In the background is The Color Condition, an art exhibit decorating Heritage Park throughout the month of October. Denison Convention & Visitors Bureau and The Denison Arts Council supported the band and exhibit. Credit: Randy Sedlacek Photography

On Oct. 30, we’ll announce the three winners of the 2020 Great American Main Street Award (GAMSA). In anticipation of the big reveal, we’re highlighting one GAMSA semifinalist per day on our blog,
Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter from Oct. 20 -29. We’ll not only spotlight their impressive efforts from previous years, but we’ve also checked in with each community to hear about how their downtowns have been impacted by the pandemic, how their programs have responded, and advice they’d give to other Main Street communities.  

Denison Main Street • Denison, TX

Year Founded: 1989 | Population: 25,000 | Square Blocks in Commercial District: 30

The longest Main Street in Texas, Denison has gone from a sleepy railroad town to a thriving hub for music, arts, and entertainment. Denison Main Street has made community engagement a part of everything they do–from engaging middle schoolers through an event volunteering program to initiating “Mayor on Main,” an effort where the Mayor and Main Street Director personally visit every business on Main Street.

After the economic downturn of 2008 shuttered many of their galleries, the Main Street program became laser-focused on recovery, launching a strategic initiative called “Operation Increase Occupancy.” They established a window decorating program for vacant buildings, developed a trio of publications geared toward new business owners, property, owners, and realtors to bring new business downtown, and designated downtown as an Entertainment District. Their hard work paid off. Occupancy increased, and they were named one of the original Texas Arts & Cultural Districts by the Texas Commission on the Arts in early 2009. With 424 buildings rehabbed since 1989 and a large, multi-stakeholder streetscape redesign initiative in the works, Denison is preserving its past while building a brighter future.

Keep reading to hear from Denison’s Main Street’s Executive Director, Donna Dow, about how the Main Street program has pivoted since the pandemic.

How has COVID-19 affected your community?

Denison has experienced uncertainty like everyone else. We also faced closures and staggered re-openings. One segment of our business community has yet to re-open. And a few of the businesses were hit hard with losses. However, our businesses have proven resilient and strong. When one door closed, they looked for the next opportunity and often created their own ways to continue to serve. Our sales tax figures have continued to increase, and the Downtown is responsible for a significant portion of the taxes. The City has received record sales tax collections such as the second highest month ever. In September, collections were up over the prior year 10.52%. Year-to-date collections for 2020 are up 7.11% over the same period in 2019.

Describe one of the ways your program has responded to those effects.

In April, I forwarded Main Street America’s report, The Impact of COVID-19 on Small Businesses, to our Mayor, City Manager, and economic development partners. Denison Development Alliance Vice President William Myers had been working toward a program to help businesses with marketing online sales and fulfillment. A specific portion of the report caught his attention: “Small businesses desperately need support in transitioning to e-commerce selling.”

After learning from the GoDaddy Venture Forward campaign and over a dozen other local businesses and e-commerce professionals, Myers developed Denison’s E-Commerce Accelerator Incentive in the spring. The program encouraged brick-and-mortar Denison businesses to ramp up their ability to meet the demand for online shopping by funding up to $6,000 of an $8,000 e-commerce project. The program, funded by Denison Development Alliance’s marketing budget, initially resulted in 10 projects being selected for $60,000, resulting in a total spend of $94,000 worth of improvements. An additional six e-commerce projects have been funded to date.

There have already been many success stories from these e-commerce projects. One gallery sold a $2,000 art piece within two days of opening online. Other businesses are selling on Facebook with regular online sales where customers come from across the United States. Comment Sold and Shopify have been utilized to make life easier for these businesses.

What is one piece of advice you would give to Main Streets struggling to pivot in the time of COVID-19?

The Main Street Program should focus on the business owners, and the businesses should focus on the customers. With the guidance of our Mayor, we have concentrated on things we “can do” rather than things we “can’t do.” We have held the events we can while mitigating risk to the extent possible. We have attempted to replace the events that had to be cancelled with safer, business-friendly activities that allow customers to shop and eat. And the businesses have focused on the customer by looking for ways to continue to serve them, by offering creative opportunities to view the merchandise, and by making their shopping experience safer.

A Sidewalk Sale this past Saturday was a great example of business owners doing what they do best. A major event had to be cancelled for safety, and the business owners were faced with replacing the income from a potentially big day. The Sidewalk Sale offered customers a less risky shopping experience, and business owners used their creativity to provide fun ways to spend a day and money. The result was a good sales day—some better than the original event would have generated.

Follow Denison Main Street on social media to keep up with their efforts:

Facebook: @DenisonLive

Instagram: @Denison_Live

Join us as we announce the GAMSA winners on Oct. 30 at 12pm EST during a special Main Street plenary at PastForward, the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s digital conference. The plenary is free to attend but registration is required! Tune in to the awards ceremony by registering  for the session via Zoom or the PastForward site. We will also be streaming the ceremony via Facebook Live.