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Main Street March Mondays: Economic Vitality

Welcome back to Main Street March Mondays! This is a series about the structure of community revitalization and how Building a Better Boyertown interprets Main Street America’s “Four Point Approach” to improve and maintain Boyertown’s Historic District! This week we’re looking at Economic Vitality. If you missed our first two installments “What Does Building a Better Boyertown DO?” and “Organization” go check them out! Unlike the “Organization” focal point, “Economic Vitality” is a bit more straight forward.

Main Street Programs like BaBB almost always exist in a historic commercial district. Think about our history – how Boyertown came to be as it formed and grew around European settlers that tended farms, built homes and stores, began mining iron ore, and so on and so on through our booming industries of iron, cigars, burial caskets, truck bodies and more – up until present day. Laborers and their families lived and worked in many of the buildings that still exist here today, and they all needed to buy clothes, medicine, food, and tools (ideally within walking distance). As industries and generations waxed and waned, the physical and economic landscape morphed, and continues to morph, to meet the needs of the user. For example, with a little love and skill, the space that was once storage for a cigar factory became a butcher, a florist, and now a multi-use office, visitors center, and perfume shop (yes, we’re talking about our office!).

Economic Vitality is the core of the main street approach. It means exactly how it sounds – to strengthen the community’s existing economic assets and diversify them as the community grows or changes. The goal is a thriving commercial district that responds to the needs of today’s consumers. Without small businesses, restaurants, art galleries, entertainment spaces, attractions, and so on, there would be no community! Folks would have to travel farther to dine or shop and could potentially move away completely. This also means that there would be nothing to attract visitors from out of town to spend dollars locally either.

A program will start by understanding the current economic conditions – what does the community have and what does the community need? This includes market analysis, business and building inventories, demographic profiles, parking, etc. We can then identify ways to strengthen existing businesses. This includes funding like the façade grant mentioned in our previous blog post – the façade grant comes from DCED, through a main street program, to assist in funding building appearance and signage improvements. We can also provide tools and resources for business owners, such as inviting Grow with Google to our town to host a seminar on how to be found by customers online. Of course, one of the easiest ways to support is to always shop and dine locally and encourage others to do the same!

Next, we help our community grow by locating vacant spaces and assisting in finding a great fit to meet our needs. Working with property owners, investors, and real estate agents is a big part of this, discussing the shared vision for the space. Some great examples of BaBB's role in this process include securing the Anchor Grant – a small business loan for a key space in the community – which was awarded to Grind restaurant to supplement their funds to get started. We’ve also had the pleasure of working with Toss of the Town to find space to open – filling the need for a fresh, healthy, lunch and dinner option downtown.

Sharing the unused space in the front of our office for Henny Faire Co perfumer to open a brick-and-mortar boutique is another example of a great economic partnership. Her customer base travels to Boyertown to visit and shop in person and new local customers are introduced to her wares. These consumers also have access to our tourism resources when our office would normally be closed on the weekends. We’d call this symbiotic relationship “endgame” as it is economic vitality’s ultimate goal – strong partnerships that support local and bring business to our district.

That being said - there truly is no end to this work. As with all the four points, part of the process is reevaluating goals, adjusting strategies, and maintaining assets. Remember that the four points work best in tandem with one another! Upgrades of many tangible and visual economic benefits can also be considered Design improvements. Next week we will talk about the Design focal point – the physical attributes of a town that make it unique, beautiful, and accessible.

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