Main Street means good things for area

Published 2:06 am Wednesday, October 16, 2002

By By BILL CRIST - Publisher
Since its inception 22 years ago, the National Main Street Center has been teaming up with towns and cities across the country to clean up and revitalize their historic or traditional commercial areas. Brewton has been a part of the program before, and thanks to a small but dedicated group of local merchants and community leaders, Brewton will be participating again.
With its roots in historic preservation, the Main Street concept was designed to help preserve historically significant buildings. Along the way, it has become a tool for economic development as well. It's that type of retail growth that the Brewton group is hoping to bring to our downtown business district initially, and then to the rest of Brewton.
Working with the city, the group has organized a board of directors that includes merchants, representatives from the chamber of commerce and several members of the community. And while the first order of business will be to work on a master plan for the downtown area, the group's mission is much broader.
Realizing that the entire retail and service sector is vital to the city's continued growth, the group plans to seek broad-based participation by including every business and individual that is interested, with an eye on results that will benefit the entire community.
According to its national website, the Main Street program is designed to improve all aspects of the downtown or central business district, producing both tangible and intangible benefits. According to the organization, Main Street National Trust, this is accomplished by improving economic management, strengthening public participation and making downtown a fun place to visit.
These initial steps are important ones, and will set the stage for strengthening and then building our city's tax base. When the Boardwalk was added behind the businesses in downtown, an important trend was started. After sputtering for a few years as businesses migrated towards the larger retail shopping centers, there has been a flurry of activity in downtown recently. Several new stores, a salon, travel agency and health club have all opened in the past year.
As you travel around the country, and work in different communities trying to attract businesses and out-of-town shoppers, they all seem to have another successful city in mind as they plan. Certain communities have carved a niche for themselves, promoted their unique offerings and flourished. And while it is helpful to have a goal to shoot for, and a model to follow, it is just as important to realize that every community is different and offers the public a different reason for visiting and shopping. Brewton is no exception, and while we can seek to emulate the success of towns such as Fairhope, we'll only be successful if we enhance and build on the attractions we already have in place.
The Brewton project also has another goal, education. More than simply putting up signs encouraging local residents to "shop at home," though, the group plans to take their message into the schools. By designing and introducing a curriculum that teaches the economic benefits of shopping locally, they hope to mold early shopping patterns. In demonstrating how purchasing a car in Brewton instead of elsewhere benefits our community - showing the tax dollars raised and how they are used in this community, the group hopes to build retail through real and tangible examples.
To work, the group is going to need this community's support, particularly from local business owners and managers. Given the commitment displayed by those who have agreed to sit on the board and from the city, it's a pretty safe bet that the program will work. And that means good things for Brewton, East Brewton and our half of Escambia County.
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