Local Main Street Communities coordinate for regional benefit

 ** Guest blogger Susan Howard, Executive Director, Abingdon Main Street

As the director of Abingdon Main Street, I am very fortunate to have three other designated Virginia Main Street communities, Bristol, Marion and St. Paul, each less than an hour’s drive from Abingdon.

The proximity of our communities and their cultural similarities have allowed us to explore ways to work together in a regional partnership.  During the holiday season of 2013, we promoted a buy local theme using a common slogan—“Spread holiday cheer when you spend it here.”  Recently, Christina Blevins of Believe in Bristol arranged a meeting with Anthony Flaccavento, a local Abingdon organic farmer and consultant for sustainable economic development, along with Olivia Hall from Marion Downtown, Teresa Harless from St. Paul Main Street, Joy Rumley from Virginia Main Street, and yours truly. Flaccevento discussed the organization called BALLE, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies.

BALLE is like a chamber of commerce for locally-owned, independent businesses, the kind of businesses that are the heart and soul of any Main Street community.  BALLE also focuses on the triple bottom line of success for businesses:  financial, social and environmental.  We talked about the potential for a loosely-formed BALLE-like organization, as as well what it would require to form an actual BALLE chapter. And of course, we discussed the need for funding and grant opportunities available.

The next step is for the four Main Street directors in our region to meet with our respective economic restructuring committees to discuss the feasibility of a partnership between our communities using the BALLE principles.  We recognize the advantages, in terms of business networking, education and promotion, of buy-local principles, but we must decide if BALLE is a good fit for us in terms of a regional partnership.  Whatever we decide, we will be working together, and that is a good thing.

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