Virginia Main Street Downtown Improvement Grants awarded

Seven designated Virginia Main Street (VMS) communities have been awarded VMS Downtown Improvement Grants in a special initiative marking the program’s 25th anniversary.

Successful proposals in the competitive process demonstrated: 

  • Measurable impacts or deliverables;
  • Committee or volunteer project leadership/involvement;
  • Partnerships and resource leveraging;
  • Local government involvement or support;
  • Up-to-date program reporting; and
  • The ability to complete the project using the $2,500 (plus leverage) by Dec. 2010.

The funded projects in alphabetical order are:

CulpeperA downtown banner project will carry forward the VMS-supported identity campaign and leverage donated design time, community volunteer hours, and an in-kind local government contribution. 

HarrisonburgA pilot tourism project will engage a collaborative team in the development, trial, and measurement of a concierge and resort-based educational and promotional campaign.

Martinsville:  A print and Web marketing campaign will promote Uptown Martinsville as a destination and include the development and production of a brochure and loyalty cards that shoppers will use to receive special discounts and offers at participating Uptown businesses.

OrangeA landscaping project will expand a recently successful collaboration between the Orange Downtown Alliance, local garden clubs, and the Town of Orange into a district-wide effort, leveraging volunteer hours and contributions.

South Boston:  A participatory art and history project will engage a collaborative team in painting fire hydrants as part of the community’s strategic arts and heritage economic repositioning.

StauntonA downtown banner project will extend an existing effort into a transitional, gateway portion of the district, leveraging an existing investment and increasing the engagement of a stakeholder group at the margins.

Winchester: A pedestrian oriented kiosk and signage will implement recommendations from an ongoing wayfinding planning process.

Congratulations to the successful communties, and good luck on the projects.


I want my M(ain Street)TV

When you think about it, Main Street is an easy sell. Supporting local merchants, caring for older buildings, and maintaining community character all have a feel-good quality; instinctively they’re the right things to do. And the community of volunteers and stakeholders who make it happen  sell it the best.  With inexpensive technology and free hosting sites such as YouTube and Facebook, video is a great way to let them do it. Here are three examples from around Virginia:

If you’re not quite ready to line up a local production team, but you still want to incorporate some a video-based message on your site, consider embedding this “Shop Main Street” video from the National Trust Main Street Center.  And for a statewide look at Main Street, the 25th anniversary slideshow is online.

Send Doug links to your video efforts and we’ll incorporate them as examples in our ongoing Main Street Media initiative.

Guest Blogger: Warrenton’s Charla L. Malone on Main Street’s ambush-style makeover

Today, we are obsessed with makeovers.  On television, everything is given a chance for dramatic overhaul, from houses and children’s behavior to 18-wheelers and, of course, the face. Wouldn’t it be great to harness that interest and use it to motivate more people to walk your Main Street?

The Partnership for Old Town Warrenton did just that by having Salon Emage Day Spa do an Ambush Style Makeover at their June 1st Fr!day event.

The concept is simple: interested persons pick-up a “Make Me Over” sticker at designated places. The makeover team scopes out everyone wearing stickers and picks someone; then, the makeover begins!

“Around 6:30 that evening the Salon Emage Style Team picked Sarah Smarelli from the crowd to have her hair cut and makeup done. The entire makeover took place on Main Street… Sarah had grown her hair out but was ready for it to be shorter. 

Sarah loved her new looked, especially the false eyelashes! Hair for the Ambush Style Makeover was by Salon Emage Style Team hair stylist, Jody Coppock… Makeup was done by Salon Emage Style Team makeup artist, Charla Malone… ”  (from the Partnership’s June Newsletter)

Sarah Smarelli's 1st Fr!day transformation. Click the picture for more images.

Due to the threat of severe thunder storms that evening, only 20 stickers had been given out when the model was picked. However, the makeover was well received and it created a great buzz for Salon Emage Day Spa, so they are committed to doing one for each 1st Fr!day. This event kept people milling around on Main Street to see the big reveal, which is also good for other merchants.

How’d they do it?

1. The Partnership sent e-mail blasts to the community.

2. Event Chair, Women of Wonder Fauquier, sent e-mails and posted information on their Web site. At the event, their booth gave out the “Make Me Over” stickers.

3. Salon Emage Day Spa provided makeover materials and personnel. They made the “Make Me Over” stickers and promoted the event.

Some things to consider:

Name:  “Ambush Makeover” is The Today Show’s, so change it up a bit.

Location:  You’ll need electricity, high pedestrian traffic, and good light.

Stickers:  Make ’em neon and big!

Sticker Distribution:  Allow a period of time for sticker distribution and specify a “model picking” time, so that interested persons will be on Main Street. Get many merchants involved in handing out stickers to get people in their doors!

Putting events to work for your downtown district

Why do you do it?

That festival takes months of planning. The parade risks being rained out. There are suddenly four previously un-calendared community events on the same weekend as the chili cook-off; the band shows up late; and the vendors haven’t brought enough change.

Events can be a real headache. But you still put them on. Why? In the Summer 2010 edition of the Virginia Main Street Monitor, we dare you to ask yourself that question.  Why?  We’ll also help you answer it.

The technical brief features tips, strategies, and examples from Virginia Main Street communities.  Download it today and share it with your board and promotions committee members.

Staunton’s storefront art initiative

What happens when you team artists with local arts, culture and social organizations and task them with creating an innovative street gallery in vacant storefronts? On June 25, Staunton visitors and residents will find out, as a month-long exhibit opens in the empty windows along Beverley Street.  For a downtown braving a major construction project, the hope is the facelift project will stimulate imaginative interactions, spark interest in local programs and businesses, and promote the downtown Staunton experience to visitors, residents, and potential merchants.

Sponsored by the Staunton Downtown Development Association and honoring such groups as ShenanArts, Beverley Street Studio School, Staunton Music Guild, Stuart Hall, Staunton Green 20/20, Transition Staunton, Boys and Girls Club, Ampersand Arts, American Shakespeare Center, the Public Library and the Staunton Performing Arts Center, the project will highlight the women who have contributed to the mission of these organizations.  The promotion is part of the Virginia Commission for the Arts “Minds Wide Open:  Virginia Celebrates Women in the Arts.”

Artists and organization representatives will be on hand Opening Night from 6 – 9 p.m. to discuss their work, and galleries and arts spaces will be conducting the regularly scheduled 4th Fridays Gallery Walk from 5 – 8 p.m.  A variety of street performers and artists will also be performing around downtown. 

Staunton's 4th Friday Art Walk on Beverley Street

South Boston puts on a show

The performing arts are at home on Main Streets throughout Virginia. Commissioned works on a regional theme premiere at Abingdon’s Barter Theatre.  Shakespearean tragedies move audiences at the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton. And audiences around the country tune in to watch bluegrass legends pick and sing on Song of the Mountains from the stage of Marion’s Lincoln Theatre. 

South Boston’s Prizery has added to that list by providing a community-centered arts venue that hosts touring groups and offers classes. In 2009 the Virginia Commission for the Arts named the Prizery the Rising Star Award as an up-and-coming arts organization having a significant impact on its community.

Now, in an era in which many performing arts groups have pulled back their offerings due to economic uncertainty, The Prizery has moved ahead as a driving force in the  community’s arts- and culture-based economic restructuring strategy with a new summer-stock effort.

This summer, the renovated tobacco warehouse will be home to professional actors who  have moved from as far away as the Gulf Coast for paying jobs in original productions of three Broadway-style musicals.

“I am taking a chance on The Prizery because they are taking a chance on me,” says Mary Linehan, an on-stage ensemble actress as well as a costume intern who hails from Findlay, Ohio.

Merchants are getting behind the effort as well. A downtown café owner will bring over  freezers of homemade gelato to sell at matinée intermissions. Local restaurants – from renowned upscale eateries to a landmark hot-dog stand – are distributing fliers and urging support.

“In addition to the obvious impacts to our hotels and restaurants, the Summer Theatre Celebration offers us a unique opportunity to cultivate more than 20 ambassadors for Halifax County,” says Mike Sexton, executive director of the Industrial Development Authority of Halifax County. These professional actors and technical people will be living in our community for nearly three months, and if we do our job correctly, when the leave, they will tell others about the wonderful experience they had while working here.”

Dames at Sea, All Night Strut, and Annie will run for a combined 32 shows between June 24 and Aug. 7. Tickets and links to trip-planning tools are available at

Cultivating an Entrepreneurial Downtown: Summer toolkit registration now open

Wouldn’t you like to have a downtown filled with energetic and forward thinking businesses? In today’s fast changing economy, success belongs to those nimble risk takers who understand that their job is to fill consumer demand; The Entrepreneurs. 

Join the Virginia Main Street network of downtown revitalization professionals and volunteers in Franklin on July 22 and 23 to learn the latest in successful business development strategies. 

Cultivating an Entrepreneurial Downtown, Virginia Main Street’s Summer Toolkit,  is designed to help communities focus the Main Street Four Point Approach ® to entrepreneur and local business expansion for a thriving, home-grown, downtown marketplace. 

The event will be hosted by Virginia Main Street and the Downtown Franklin Association, with support from the following local sponsors: Bronco Federal Credit Union, Franklin Southampton Economic Development, Inc., and Southampton Memorial Hospital.

To build on the momentum of the program, at the end of day two the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development Project Management Office will host a Southern Virginia Downtown Interchange to bring together the region’s fruitful minds and enterprising resources. 

For more information, download the full agenda, and then register online today.