THE BOOKSTORE OCCUPIES the old bank building. The brew pub is in the former courthouse. The lingerie shop has a plaque outside pertaining to the Civil War. Oh, and there’s a new James Beard–caliber restaurant a block away that serves a 21-course meal worth driving in from the big city to experience.
One other thing you need to know about Main Street, USA: It appears to be coming back — in a 21st-century kind of way.
“It’s a process and a never-ending challenge, but there’s a definite shift happening across the country to help these smaller communities reclaim their deep-rooted commercial districts and revive economic potential,” says Lauren Adkins, assistant director for field services of the National Trust Main Street Center, a wing of the National Trust for Historic Preservation dedicated to nursing vintage American communities back to health. “Of course, there’s historical relevance here because a lot of these places have a long, proud past. But the point is they also have a future.”
So what’s brought on the recent push to resuscitate these dilapidated downtowns? Adkins credits a level of community awareness that has been growing for the last 15 years and was kicked into overdrive by the economic downturn.
“People have started to realize — and the recession really cemented it for them — that greater economies are very linked into their own community’s local economy,” she says. “If you want to have a great local place to go shopping, you need to support that place. Yeah, Walmart may be cheaper for everyone, but shopping at national chains and megastores comes with its own price because so little of that money is funneled back into their own community.” To help these towns get there, the Main Street Center has helped launch more than 2,000 revival programs across the country over the last 30 years. And the good news is that it’s working. Don’t believe us? Check out some of our favorite Main Street success stories from coast to coast.
MARKET STREET | FREDERICK, MD. “What we date as the low point in Frederick was during the 1970s, when three major events happened,” explains Kara Noman, executive director of the Downtown Frederick Partnership. “A new interstate connection to Washington, D.C., suddenly offered quick access to much larger shopping locations outside of the city, we lost two major department stores, and a devastating flood inundated about 100 acres of our downtown core.”
It was, by all accounts, a perfect-storm decade for this small, Colonial-era city in northern Maryland (about 50 miles west of Baltimore) that had once served as a hospice base for Civil War casualties from the Battle of Antietam. But it was also a pivotal one. “That period was a real rallying point for this community,” Norman says.
Several proactive years later, Frederick is back in business — literally — with more than 200 shops and restaurants lining Market Street and its surrounding commercial district. The area has remained mostly chain resistant, boasting independent jewelry stores and vintage clothing shops, an old-fashioned candy store called Sweet Memories, and a toy store — Dancing Bear Toys and Gifts — which bills itself as “the best battery-free toy store in the world.” And the area’s 30-something restaurants — which include the latest it boîte, Volt, where Top Chef finalist Bryan Voltaggio will prepare a 21-course prix fixe meal for you if you book ahead — validate Frederick as a dining destination worthy of its own interstate exit. For its efforts, the town center even won a Great American Main Street Award — a prize handed out to standout communities each year by the Main Street Center.
“People from the Baltimore and D.C. area are now visiting Frederick on the weekends,” says Norman, who adds that it’s also a major holiday destination. “If you’re here between Thanksgiving and the winter holidays, there’s something going on every weekend.” www.downtownfrederick.org