The Destination Express: Enhancing the Visitor Experience with History

The Ashland Main Street Association and its local partners are dedicated to making downtown an amazing destination.  How?  By embracing their transportation history they are improving the visitor experience and creating memorable central gathering spaces. Executive Director Tom Wulf is our guest blogger with the details.    

Earlier in 2017, mural artist Ed Trask and his team finished a masterpiece on the side of the Caboose Wine & Cheese shop in downtown Ashland–a 250 foot long rendering of a locomotive that traveled Ashland’s tracks 50 years ago. The mural honors the late Art McKinney, former owner of the building and great steward of his historic properties, depicted at the train’s helm as the engineer. I captured the entire mural using a video drone.

The mural is one of several exhibits for the proposed Mid-Atlantic Railroad Park. The park will also include the installation of train-related artifacts as public art exhibits along the key corridor into downtown, England Street. This initiative will not only encourage walking tours along England Street, it will also strengthen Ashland’s brand as a railroad town.

The concept aligns with one of Ashland Main Street’s key strategic priorities, extend the Railroad Avenue [Ashland’s “Main Street”] experience to the England Street corridor.  A railroad park will spread the pedestrian-friendly feel of Railroad Avenue throughout the district and increase foot traffic to England Street restaurants and retailers.

The Ashland Main Street Association will host the upcoming Virginia Main Street Regional Rev-Up, Start with “Why”: Creating Purpose-driven Special Events, November 8, 10 AM – 2 PM.  Register today and experience Ashland up close!

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Practical, Low-cost Ideas to Make Your Downtown A Destination

What can your Main Street program do to make downtown more of a destination for locals and visitors?

Would a punch list of key actions be helpful?  With today’s market, Main Street communities are happily positioned for a resurgence.  As a Main Street advocate, having a plan to ride that wave and make your downtown the best and brightest means nailing down the best strategy and the right activities. This can feel a little like trying to catch paper money in a cash booth.

There is no silver bullet, but there are lots of resources and experts that complement the Main Street Approach. Author Roger Brooks is one of them.  For more than 30 years Roger has helped transform ordinary places into extraordinary destinations. Currently, Roger is promoting a free series of webinars that focus on why downtowns are popular and more important than ever. He showcases low-cost activities that downtown advocates are doing to create vibrant, successful destinations for both locals AND visitors.

The recording of the first of the series is only available until July 28.  You can catch the rest of the series @RogerBrooksInternational.

Discover What’s “Wythein:” Downtown Wytheville’s Vibrant New Website

DiscoverWytheinMain Street program websites come in many shapes and sizes.  The challenge is to create a simple and fresh website that promotes the Main Street organization and local brand while showcasing the unique charm of downtown and all it has to offer.

Downtown Wytheville Inc. recently updated their online presence with a website refresh that provides an informative, enticing and interactive experience for the user.  The site offers useful tools and information to its visitors, such as an easy to navigate, interactive map with a wide variety of filters from dining and shopping, to local community resources.  It appeals to entrepreneurs looking to locate in downtown by delivering a welcoming message, business investment guide and information on incentive programs.  It showcases the Main Street program, its mission, and ways to engage in support of downtown; and with mobile devices accounting for an increasing percentage of web traffic, Downtown Wytheville’s website can attractively acclimate to any screen resolution.

Learn more >>

 

 

Three Steps to Refresh Your Main Street Strategies for Visible Results

How can your local Main Street program better use limited resources to create vibrant, people-centered places?

The Main Street Approach has been a successful model for NMSC06_WEBBANNER_F_APPROACHolder commercial district revitalization for more than 35 years and is used to revitalize and manage downtowns in more than 2,000 communities across the U.S.  The Four Point approach offers a simple guide to comprehensively address a complex and sometimes chaotic downtown environment.  While that is true, it is a challenge to get the equation just right to catalyze reinvestment, create jobs and create a better quality of life, and especially to do it just right.

Throughout the past few years, the National Main Street Center has conducted surveys, convened a task force of experts and engaged closely with the Main Street network to develop a revised framework.  This revision, called the Four Point Refresh, is the same approach, just sharpened, made more strategic and with a focus on visible results.

  1. Identify the Community Vision for Success – This essential step provides a foundation for outlining the community’s own identity, expectations and ideals, while building off of market opportunities.
  2. Create Community Transformation Strategies – Work together to identify strategies that provide a clear sense of priorities and direction.  These strategies align with the four key areas: economic vitality, effective promotion, quality design and a sustainable organization.  Typically communities will find two to three strategies to help reach a community vision.
  3. Implement and Measure – To succeed, the effort must be able to demonstrate the wise use of resources, which translates to real change on the ground: new jobs added to Main Street, new businesses open, buildings redeveloped and certainly other metrics of success.

Find out more about how to make your local revitalization efforts better, stronger and faster by coming to the next Virginia Main Street training. VMS offers trainings throughout the year, and there is sure to be one near you.

 

Check the local news stands: Virginia Main Street in Southern Living

In the September 2015 issue of Southern Living, you will find a spread highlighting travel destinations across the commonwealth, including a special nod to our beloved Virginia Main Street communities.  Thank you to our partners at Virginia Tourism Corporation.  Web links direct readers to a list of the designated communities and points travelers to the heart of each community, its downtown district.  Turn up that smile and cool down the taps, the neighbors are coming!

Virginia is for Main Street Lovers!

Celebrate Downtown with Virginia Main Streets - September 2015 Issue of Southern Living

September 2015 Issue of Southern Living

 

 

Virginia Tourism is way ahead of the pack…again.

One of Virginia Main Street’s most prized relationships is the one we have with Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC).  We often plan our strategies to complement theirs and they often ask us what’s going on downtown that they can use to better market Virginia.  They believe in Virginia’s historic commercial districts as tourist attractions to the point that they designed a special category of their Passionality quiz called Small Town Hound.

Many of the really exciting innovations at VTC have been ways to get your information out to travellers, whether they be from out of state or just down the street.  The Richmond Times Dispatch published an article touting VTC’s new iPhone app.  The application allows small businesses to directly reach travellers in a number of ways by self posting information about their businesses in a way that the app users can find them while they are travelling.

Features of the Virginia is for Lovers app include:

• a “near me” feature which finds all attractions within a 15-mile radius;

• directions and mapping for every listing;

• direct access to making reservations via phone or website;

• customer reviews of restaurants and lodging properties; and

• pet-friendly attractions listed by locality

The Virginia.org website has many tools to help local businesses and organizations promote their events and products.  You can go here to add your events now or you can contact a VTC representitive here.

Pop-up shops a temporary solution to the empty storefront

With commercial real estate continuing to reel from the economic downturn, some major brands are looking at temporary leases in heavy volume areas.  Empty storefronts are not good for anyone, and leases in desireable areas have become much more flexible.

These “pop-up” stores are potential strategies for fledging businesses trying out a concept, artists promoting their work, and districts working to maintain a critical energy level. And a well-executed, intentionally temporary use sends a very different message than a space that unintentionally turns over after a 90-day stint by a poorly planned business.

While a major car company may not be looking at your district to establish a pop-up store as Ford did in Portland last month to promote the new Fiesta, their model might spark local thinking about temporary uses for your vacant spaces.  The space Ford is in had been empty for two years.

With the holiday shopping season approaching, now might be a great time to encourage a creative use for a critical vacancy in your district.  If the property owner is willing, work with him or her and a brainstorming team to identify potential pop-ups that would complement existing businesses. 

Here are some quick thoughts: a seasonal Halloween or holiday store in a vacant space could bring new shoppers into the district.  Perhaps a successful charity such as goodwill would be interested in setting one up, or maybe a local club already has a holiday sales event that could use a temporary space. A successful home-based business might be a good candidate for a pop-up, or the local arts or craft guild might want to try one.  

If you have a local theater group (or maybe even the high school theater club), you might enlist their set design skills in creating an entertaining and attractive space.  Use your revitalization network to help promote the temporary store. And remember, the more people you involve in the effort, the more people will support it during its run.

Interested in reading more?  Try Inc. Magazine’s recent article, “How to Open a Pop-up Store.”