Great Business Ideas: Move Your Business into a Main Street Revitalization Zone

Great Ideas for your Small Business: Move Your Business into a Main Street Revitalization Zone

When paul curtain, owner of raymond’s Jewellers in downtown Sioux Falls, South Dakota, needed a loan to remodel his store, he borrowed money, below prime rate, from a revolving fund set up especially for downtown merchants. “As a small retailer, I couldn’t have afforded to do what I’ve done in a mall location,” said Curtain.

Moving merchants from malls to Main Street is a trend sweeping America. Small business owners looking for a fresh start are taking advantage of a variety of state, local, and federal Main Street revitalization programs.

“There is a new breed of merchants, and they live in Downtown, U.S.A.,” said Kennedy Smith, director of the National Historic Trust’s Main Street Center program. Thou- sands of deteriorating and abandoned communities have been revitalized by funds and technical assistance provided by the program, which started in 1976. About 1,300 communities in the United States and Puerto Rico have received help. The Main Street program takes credit for creating 33,000 new businesses and 115,000 new jobs. “Every dollar a community spends on downtown revitalization brings in $30 in new investment,” said Smith.

Communities across the country are revitalizing their downtown areas in a variety of ways. Peekskill, New York, for example, is working hard to create a downtown area filled with art galleries and art schools. Affordable rent and remodeled lofts are luring many artists from Manhattan, city officials said. Venice Beach, California, has also created a mecca for art lovers along Abbott Kinney Boulevard to revitalize the business district.

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For small retailers, moving downtown has many advantages. You can set your own hours and operate your store without being restricted by mall regulations. Rents are usually cheaper in downtown business districts.

“If we didn’t have retailing, we wouldn’t have downtown as we know it,” said Susan Scott, owner of Scott’s Ltd., a women’s clothing store in downtown Sioux Falls, Idaho.

“Anytime you can be a part of a district that’s doing well, your business is bound to benefit.”

If you are interested in starting a Main Street program or improving your downtown area, here are some tips from the National Trust’s Smith:

  • Schedule a meeting to introduce the idea to merchants, civic leaders, lenders, and restoration-minded citizens.
  • Meet with public officials and city planners to gauge their interest in redevelopment efforts.
  • Meet with a cross section of community groups to enlist their support.
  • Organize a downtown festival to focus attention on your downtown area.
  • Visit another Main Street program to see how it works.
  • Create a task force of business owners, property owners, and government officials to set priorities and make plans.