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Pandemic Recovery Efforts in Georgia: Progress on the Georgia Main Street Innovation Grant Program

September 9, 2021 | Pandemic Recovery Efforts in Georgia: Progress on the Georgia Main Street Innovation Grant Program | By Jenna Temkin, Manager of Marketing & Outreach, Main Street America

Untitled_design__84_.pngLeft: Grassroots Coffee in Thomasville, Georgia receives a grant through the Main Street program's ecommerce matching grant program. Photo courtesy of Thomasville Main Street. Center: Maria Elias with her mural "Unidos," for the Athens Arts Alley. Photo courtesy of Athens DDA. Right

COVID-19 has posed significant challenges to Main Streets throughout the country, and the pandemic continues to test downtown districts today. To support Georgia Main Streets throughout the recovery process and position them for long-term sustainability, Main Street America launched the Georgia Main Street Innovation Grant Program, made possible through generous support from The Williams Family Foundation of Georgia. 

The program provided five Georgia Main Street Programs $10,000 each last fall to help fund innovative revitalization efforts to address the current and/or legacy impacts of COVID-19. The program was open to all programs affiliated with Georgia Main Street that have an active Main Street America membership. From entrepreneur and small business support programs to marketing initiatives and placemaking projects, the winners used funds for creative and out-of-the-box ideas around COVID-recovery. Learn more about the winning ideas and their progress below.

Athens Downtown Development Authority: Athens Art Alley 

Untitled_design__84_.pngLeft: Maria Elias with her mural "Unidos." Center: A mural submission for the Athens Arts Alley. Right: Eli Saragoussi poses with her mural. Photos courtesy of Athens DDA

The Athens Art Alley is transforming a seldom-used, forgotten alley into an engaging, art-filled space that will encourage the community to come together. The Art Alley will attract people to the commercial district, bring attention to the creative economy, and provide desperately needed recovery assistance to local artists. The Athens Downtown Development Authority (DDA), in collaboration with their partners, the Athens Area Arts Council and the Lyndon House Arts Center, issued a call for mural submissions inspired by recovery, advocacy, activism, optimism, with a focus on recruiting BIPOC and LGBTQ+ artists. After receiving over 40 applications, seven artists were selected, with six of the artists identifying as BIPOC or LGBTQ+. The murals will be painted on panels that will be mounted to brick walls along the alley. Athens DDA expects to have the project completed by September of this year.  

Downtown Development Authority of Tifton: The Yard 

The Yard project will turn an underutilized downtown building on a sleepy street into a vibrant courtyard for food trucks to congregate and provide unique food choices for the community. Serving as a small business incubator, The Yard will help food truck operators expand into permanent locations downtown or provide an opportunity for existing downtown restaurants to launch a truck. Grant program funds are being used to create onsite handicap-accessible public restrooms, which will be crucial in a food courtyard development. So far, Tifton Downtown Development Authority has completed architectural renderings of the restrooms, applied for the permits for restroom construction, and completed general cleaning and maintenance. The Yard is currently hosting events and has rented small portable restrooms for the time being. The project is expected to be completed in mid-September. 

City of Thomasville Main Street: E-Commerce Grant Program

Untitled_design__84_.pngGrassroots Coffee in Thomasville, Georgia receives a grant through the Main Street program's ecommerce matching grant program. Photo courtesy of Thomasville Main Street.

Throughout the pandemic, the biggest challenge reported by local businesses in Thomasville was creating and improving their online presence. TheCity of Thomasville Main Street program is hoping to address this challenge through an ecommerce matching grant program. The program will encourage business expansion and retention by investing in e-commerce as an additional revenue stream for their brick-and-mortar downtown business. Thomasville Main Street has marketed the opportunity to local businesses through their website, merchant meetings, city council, meetings, in-store discussions, and more. They have launched an application and are working with businesses to provide proper documentation to complete the application prior to the November 2021 deadline. Thomasville hopes to continue the project with additional funding, so they can continue to supporting their small businesses in ramping up their online presence. 

Tybee Island Downtown Development Authority: Beach Business Bootcamp

Untitled_design__84_.pngLeft: Seaside Sweets owner Rachel Jones and local news reporter Mariah Congedo during a SBDC site visit. Photo credit: Sarah Bernzott. Right: Kelly Swope (left), owner of Kelly and Company Essential Oil and SBDC instructor Nadia Osman during a site visit.

In a survey of their local small business owners, Tybee Island Downtown Development Authority (DDA) found that one of their top concerns was getting education to pivot their businesses for a post-pandemic world. Tybee Island has fulfilled this need for education with a pilot program to provide hands-on coaching to local business owners who need to flip their business plan for continued survival. Playing off their coastal location, the education program was called "Beach Business Bootcamp: Learn How to Flip Not Flop Your Business." In collaboration with the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center, Tybee Island DDA ran the bootcamp from April to August 2021. The virtual bootcamp was comprised of four modules, with opportunities for business to discuss challenges and share feedback, as well as an opportunity for the local SBDC trainer to visit each business and provide in-person counseling. Two training sessions per module helped local businesses expand their online presence and boost ecommerce capabilities. Twelve businesses completed the bootcamp, and participating businesses have seen a dramatic increases in social media engagement.

City of Valdosta: Beyond the Bricks - Downtown Business Storytelling Campaign

Valdosta.pngDowntown Valdosta created digital and video content to help drive shoppers into their brick-and-mortar businesses downtown, with a focus on the 2020 holiday shopping season. The videos told the stories of small business owners, appealed to the idea of shopping local, and captured how businesses were creating a safe shopping experience for the community. Over the past few months, Valdosta has been working with a video production company to help small businesses create additional videos capturing customers and community members explaining the importance of shopping local. Beyond the video campaigns, Valdosta started a downtown podcast called Beyond the Bricks, which highlights business owners and their stories and aims to bring positive attention to local small business owners.

We hope these projects will serve as inspiration for other communities managing the impacts of the pandemic across the country. For more information on COVID-19 resources, check out our Main Street Forward page.