The Case for Main Street

September 23rd, 2018

You can’t buy everything you need from a giant company like Amazon (as of this month). It probably sounds surprising to some, but according to the US Census, only about 13% of all sales are conducted online. So, if people don’t want to buy something online, and apparently the vast majority of purchases done aren’t, then they go somewhere locally.  Somewhere like a giant company like Wal-Mart.

Ironically, normal people (i.e. non-government) in both rural and urban communities are concerned about the condition of their Main Street corridors much more than they care about the commercial viability of their regional mall or big-box residential near their freeway interchange.

This is because main streets are important to them. They are often the “front porch” and the heart and soul of the community. They are (or should be) community gathering places that are symbols of community health, its pride, and history. They are also often populated by local, independent businesses.

Main Street America is a nationwide non-profit organization that champions a community-led, community-owned approach to generate new momentum for the local economy. It’s not a top-down effort. Since 1980, over 2,000 programs have followed their four points:

  1. Local Organization
  2. Design
  3. Economic Vitality
  4. Promotion

This organization can boast a number of success stories they have been involved with, but the most important takeaway for local leaders is that regardless of whether their community partners with an external organization or if they have the local leadership and capacity, the one thing that must happen is a deliberate strategy.

The biggest sector of the US economy is its small businesses, but it can be argued that it’s the sector that receives the least support. Unfortunately, this is often very apparent on rural main streets. While great things might come from the federal and state governments, the most critical need is for local leadership. In fact, one of the best outcomes of any effective economic development effort is that it builds leaders from within.