DHCD announces Virginia Main Street Milestone Award Winners

VMS1The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development announced today the Virginia Main Street Program Milestone Achievement Awards to designated Virginia Main Street communities. The awards were presented at a dinner in Richmond that also celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Virginia program.

“The Virginia Main Street program is a vital part of building a new Virginia economy,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice Jones. “The work throughout the 25 Virginia Main Street communities and the many affiliates has created sustainable and vibrant downtowns that make Virginia communities a great place to live, work, play and do business.”VMS2

Main Street communities and organizations were recognized for achieving notable milestones in volunteer contribution, private investment and building rehabilitation. Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice Jones served as keynote speaker for the event.

Major kudos go out to the Community Development staff who put on this great event! Pictures of the event will be posted soon on our Flickr site.

To see the entire list of winners, click here.

Walk the Line of Country Music History: Bristol and the Birthplace of Country Music Museum

 Many downtowns have a community anchor, such as a cultural heritage museum, that helps bring a number of new visitors to town.  These visitors have the potential to not only create significant economic impact, but also help spread the word about your downtown. We asked our guest blogger, Rene Rodgers, associate curator at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum and former associate director for Believe in Bristol, to share some thoughts on how this state-of-the-art museum can bring economic impact to downtown Bristol.

Bristol signAs a Main Street community, Bristol, Tennessee-Virginia* has a lot going for it. A downtown filled with restaurants, art galleries, shops and residential lofts; a variety of year-round events; a lively culture of music; extensive entrepreneurial spirit; community partnerships; and historic character. These are just a few of the things that combine to make Bristol’s downtown vibrant and continually growing.

One of the most recent additions to Historic Downtown Bristol is the Birthplace of Country Music Museum (BCMM), which opened on Aug. 1, 2014. This 24,000-square-foot facility shares the story of the 1927 Bristol Sessions, known as the “big bang of country music.” It also explores the developments in technology that played a part in the success of those recordings and the impact those historic recordings have had on American and world music. All of this is done through high-tech and acoustically-driven exhibits that invite visitors to interact with and actually experience the music, which is a wonderful way to learn and one that has proved popular and energizing.

BCMM was years in the making. From the beginning when a group of like-minded people came together well over a decade ago wanting to find a way to honor and celebrate Bristol’s music heritage, until the time when construction began and the day its doors opened, it has been a labor of love. More than $10 million was raised during that time frame, through a multitude of sources. Smithsonian affiliation was applied for and granted, and the community became involved in a variety of ways such as fundraising, local experts coming together to form the exhibition content team, as architects and contractors, and by contributing artifacts and artwork to the museum’s collection.

Birthplace of County Music Museum – Photo credit: Fresh Air Photo

The question now is: How will this museum impact Bristol as a Main Street community?

  •  BCMM will be an important anchor for Bristol’s Main Street, bringing together elements of community, education, heritage and tourism and economic development.
  • Bristol’s Main Street program is built on strong community partnerships, and the museum’s parent organization Birthplace of Country Music, along with the sister music festival, Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion, have been important players in the development of those bonds. The museum will help to foster those bonds further and bring new partnerships into the mix, all of which will help to grow the Main Street community and its assets.
  • As an educational institution, the museum brings a host of resources to a local and regional community that might not normally have access to such things. These include hosting in-house special exhibits and traveling exhibitions from the Smithsonian, other museums and institutions and guest curators, tours for schools and large groups, educational programming for children and adults, research and archival collections that further the understanding of Bristol’s music history and heritage and a variety of events that support BCMM’s educational mission.

    Birthplace of County Music Museum lobby

    Birthplace of County Music Museum lobby – Photo credit: Fresh Air Photo

  • BCMM celebrates a very specific story, one that could not be told anywhere else, the story of the 1927 Bristol Sessions. Embracing this heritage has also been an important element in the development of Bristol’s lively music culture over recent years and the success and growth of Rhythm and Roots. This “hook” is an important facet in Bristol’s tourism profile, one that brings locals out every night of the week to hear great music, makes Bristol a part of Virginia’s Crooked Road and Tennessee’s Sunny Side Trail, and now, with the opening of BCMM, further encourages a host of national and international visitors to see Bristol as a wonderful travel destination. The media attention from the opening of the museum has been overwhelming, from National Geographic, national newspapers and foreign travel writers to our local media’s continued support and coverage by Rolling Stone and other music media outlets, an increase in visitors to Bristol has been the result.
  • As more visitors come to Bristol’s downtown to visit the museum, there will be obvious economic spin-offs including increased restaurant and retail activity, the possibility of longer opening hours becoming the “norm,” always tricky with small mom-and-pop businesses, more “after hours” (i.e. night/weekend) traffic downtown and the development of new events to cater to visitors and locals alike. These changes will, in turn, attract and encourage further economic development, and hopefully, impact in a positive way on the success of those ventures. Indeed, Bristol is already gearing up for the opening of two craft breweries, both just around the corner from the museum, a boutique hotel, named in honor of the Bristol Sessions and a recording studio and offices for a record label, all great additions to Bristol’s music heritage.

The stories the Birthplace of Country Music Museum tells, along with the back story of the creation of the museum itself, are important and interesting.

Most important, however, are the many ways that this museum is and will continue to be a wonderful asset and resource to Bristol, its Main Street community and beyond.

*Believe in Bristol is designated a Main Street community in both Virginia and Tennessee because the city of Bristol is located on the border of Virginia and Tennessee.

Helping our businesses get the financing they need

Many small businesses and potential entrepreneurs in our downtowns struggle getting the financing they need to start or expand their business. We asked guest blogger Christina Cain, executive director at Staunton Creative Community Fund, to share some strategies for how her organization has been able to help small businesses gain access to capital.

christina cain

The biggest obstacle to small businesses that want to start or expand is access to capital. The answer for many is not a traditional business loan. There are several common reasons traditional loans are not for all small businesses: cost, availability, too much current debt and fear of failure. As a micro lender, what do we do? Diversify how we get access to capital for our clients.  Here are three examples of how we are addressing diversification:

  • Our Virginia Individual Development Account (VIDA ), through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), provides a matched-savings program for individuals to save money and build better futures for themselves and their families. Upon qualifying, they will earn $2 for every $1 they save, for a total of up to $6,000, that can be used for post-secondary education or to start or expand a business. (Editor’s Note: VIDA funds  may also be used to purchase a home.) Additionally, they receive financial literacy training to help them save money wisely, create realistic household spending plans and set their saving goals and values. This program is a powerful combination of access to capital, education and support that so many of our clients need. This program helps people manage their debt and gives them the flexibility to take the risk of starting a business where they may not have done so before. Check out the info about our VIDA program at http://stauntonfund.com/programs/vida/.


  • Crowdfunding can be an amazing vehicle for micro businesses to get the dollars that they need. This can be great for the project that is being funded, but what about the backers? I have to be honest, crowdfunding is not a panacea for businesses that are tight on cash. SCCF has found a way to use the crowdfunding platform for small businesses that puts accountability on the owner and the backers get their money returned. Kiva Zip Loan enables individual lenders around the world to ‘crowd fund’ interest-free loans directly to small business owners and entrepreneurs in the U.S. SCCF is a trustee of Kiva Zip, meaning we have the ability to endorse borrowers who seek financing through Kiva Zip. For more information on this, visit http://stauntonfund.com/programs/loan-funds/.


  •  SCCF’s newest venture allows us build a deeper community relationship, as well as keep our dollars local. SCCF, with support from DHCD, has launched a local investing project. Why invest locally? Invest local is the simple choice to place some of our investments in local businesses, neighbors or communities. From crowdsourcing to peer-to-peer loans to joint investment clubs, there are many ways to keep our money local. Some of the reasons why individuals are choosing to invest in their local businesses and neighborhoods include building a strong local economy, supporting friends and neighbors and aligning values with investments.  Take a look at our newly-launched website at http://invest-local.org/ for more information on the project.

Small businesses make our towns amazing places to live. It is up to us to be creative and innovative in finding ways to help them thrive. I would love to hear your thoughts on ways to get access to capital for our business!

Small Business Saturday: Sign up to be a Neighborhood Champion!

Make an Impact in the Place you Call Homeshop small

Become a Neighborhood Champion by October 16 at ShopSmall.com/Mainstreet 

In partnership with American Express, the National Main Street Center would like to invite you to become a Neighborhood Champion for Small Business Saturday® to help make Nov. 29 one of the biggest days of the year for your local small businesses.

Help Small Businesses Do More Business

In 2010, American Express founded Small Business Saturday to help business owners with their most pressing need, getting more customers. Four years later, the day continues to rally shoppers nationwide to support local small businesses on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Lead the Way

Help your community participate in Small Business Saturday this year by becoming a Neighborhood Champion. In 2013, nearly 1,500 individuals and local organizations signed up to rally their neighborhoods to celebrate the day.

As a Neighborhood Champion, you can make an impact by:
•    Organizing a neighborhood event to get your community excited about the day
•    Rallying your local small businesses to participate and encouraging your neighborhood to Shop Small®

Get What You Need for the Day

Commit to be a Neighborhood Champion by Oct. 16, and you will receive a Small Business Saturday event kit containing branded merchandise including items such as balloons, mats and shopping bags to help support your event on the day.

For inspiration on how to rally your neighborhood, Neighborhood Champions can check out Event Guides on ShopSmall.com and will also receive monthly emails filled with helpful planning resources to help prepare for the day. See Terms of Participation for additional details.

Commit to be a Neighborhood Champion today at ShopSmall.com/Mainstreet.

Damascus planned as year-round destination

Many VMS communities and other localities that DHCD partners with, like Damascus,  recognize the importance of connecting downtowns to the surrounding outdoor recreation assets.  We asked guest blogger Nick Proctor, community development and outdoor recreation specialist for the Friends of Southwest Virginia, to share how it is working in one small community in Southwest Virginia.

Two kids stand in the middle of Main Street, their water guns ready, waiting for the start of the Hiker Parade during Trail Days, an annual celebration for past, current, and future Appalachian Trail thru-hikers featuring music, vendors, gear repair, trail information, and the infamous hiker parade, held in Damascus, VA on Saturday, May 18, 2013. Copyright 2013 Jason Barnette

Two kids stand in the middle of Main Street with their water guns ready, waiting for the start of the Hiker Parade during Trail Days, an annual celebration for past, current and future Appalachian Trail thru-hikers. The event features music, vendors, gear repair, trail information and the infamous Hiker Parade and was held in Damascus on Saturday, May 18, 2013. Copyright 2013 Jason Barnette


Muddy hiking boots, a floating kayak or an eco-tour along hiking trails are new forms of currency in Appalachia. In 2012, outdoor-goers spent nearly $650 billion nationally on outdoor recreational activities, gear and accommodations. From that amount, federal, state and local entities collected $80 billion in taxes. Appalachia’s outdoor industry is a strong economic resource to be tapped in Southwest Virginia. Many communities throughout Southwest Virginia, such as Damascus, have realized the positive impacts that outdoor recreation and tourism can have on downtown revitalization strategies within the region. With a robust network of restaurants, businesses and outfitters to support an outdoor-oriented quality of life, Damascus is ready to tackle its next challenge, the seasonal characteristics of the outdoor recreation economy, that currently stifles future growth of the town.

Damascus approaches this challenge through a partnership with Virginia’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and its planning grant and Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) programs. Over the course of the coming months, the town will work with design and marketing professionals to create strategies that position the town as a year-round destination for outdoor experiences, as well as economic prosperity. Market analysis studies will highlight new target markets to expand Damascus’ economic footprint. Physical improvement plans will bring new breath to the town, aligning outdoor recreation opportunities that surround the town with existing social and commerce hubs. Hopeful physical investments include an Appalachian Trail Destination Center, which would be owned by the town and operated by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in partnership with the Wilderness Society. This center would act as a year-round professional training center with visitor center services for both hikers and the general public. The center would bring awareness, not only to the world-renowned Appalachian Trail, but also professional development opportunities based on the trails and outdoor culture that is so important to this mountain community. Finally, aesthetic improvements will bring a cohesive feel and enhance the connectivity between various destinations throughout the town. All of these products leverage existing accomplishments to enhance the quality of life and economic independence of Damascus through natural and cultural assets, a true creative economy.

Damascus is a small town (population approximately 800) in Washington County in Southwest Virginia. As part of the planning grant, the town is currently working on becoming a Commercial District Affiliate with DHCD’s Virginia Main Street program. Damascus is home to Trail Days  and known as Trail Town, USA.

VMS 2014 Summer Toolkit: At a glance

On July 15-16, Main Street organizations and community organizations gathered in Farmville, Virginia to learn more about how they could attract and support local entrepreneurs and small businesses. Training kicked off with a panel discussion with local business owners in Farmville: Caryn’s Bridal, Sandy River Retreat and Charley’s Waterfront Cafe. They shared valuable insight with the group into the passion, pleasure, and sometimes, frustration of local small business owners that really set the tone for the remaining training.

The group heard from resource partners, such as the Virginia Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity (DSBSD), Longwood Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC) about opportunities they have to assist existing business owners or new start-ups. Throughout, participants heard what they, as a community, can do to support new business through mentorship programs, community incentives, creative financing and connecting businesses to each other and regional opportunities.

Outside of training, the participants were able enjoy the Robert Russa Moton Museum, High Bridge Trail State Park and wonderful eateries and shops in Downtown Farmville.

All training presentations and materials can be located on VMS’s Archive Training materials found here.

Virginia Main Street grants available

Henry Hotel (Uptown Martinsville)

The Virginia Main Street program has two grant opportunities available for designated communities. These applications are due by August 29, 2014. Applications must be submitted in CAMS.

Downtown Investment Grants (DIG) will help local Main Street organizations accelerate the economic revitalization of their historic commercial districts by allowing them to implement innovative strategies, plans and programs that boost and accelerate private investment on Main Street.

Downtown Investment Grants are not capped, but grant awards will not typically exceed $45,000. DIGs help Main Street organizations implement projects that:
1. Facilitate innovative means of encouraging private investment that result in measurable economic improvement in the Main Street district;
2. Directly support the community’s vision for encouraging the private investment necessary for the economic revitalization of the Main Street district;
3. Align with the Main Street organization’s mission and the board’s strategic planning goals for the Main Street district; and,
4. Develop volunteer leadership, capacity and expertise in the Main Street organization.

Financial Feasibility Grants of generally up to $25,000 are available to help Main Street organizations implement projects that:

1. Work with owners of “white elephant” buildings to identify the highest and best use of such properties;
2. Develop sufficient information to allow the owner or Main Street organization to “shop” the rehabilitation and reuse of the property to private developers and investors; and,
3. Fund development of preliminary engineering reports, preliminary architecture reports, market demand studies for an identified highest and best-use and gap-financing research.

The grant funds are not to be used for continuing operations, program administration, payroll, debts or any other operational expenses.  The funds are for use in projects directly benefiting the Virginia Main Street community, with a preference to projects involving multiple partners, and they cannot be used to cover marketing and printing costs.

All projects must provide a minimum of one-to-one leverage, in which in-kind volunteer hours can be counted. Projects must be completed no later than June 1, 2015.


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