How Main Street is Responding to the Coronavirus

April 14, 2020 by Patrice Frey

Over the past few weeks, you’ve seen quite a few headlines about “Main Street”—specifically, the threat to Main Street businesses posed by the coronavirus crisis. Indeed, the picture for Main Street businesses is sobering. Main Street America, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, just released a report finding that approximately 7.5 million small businesses are in danger of closing over the next five months if they do not quickly receive financial relief.

During normal times, America’s main streets are a powerful economic engine powered by the authenticity of place. Since the National Trust founded its Main Streets program 40 years ago, Main Street communities have created more than 600,000 net new jobs and rehabbed more than 275,000 buildings. When we say that historic preservation helps build stronger communities in both rural and urban areas, we lead with America’s main streets.

The next few weeks will be critical for these communities. Much hinges on the effectiveness of the federal CARES Act stimulus programs, though as of this writing, reviews are mixed in terms of the success of small businesses accessing these funds. Main Street America and our partners are working to make sure stimulus funds reach those small businesses most in need, and advocating specifically for those businesses who employ fewer than 20 people.

Yet even amid these unprecedented challenges, I have enormous hope for the resilience of our small businesses and our Main Streets. In recent weeks, we’ve been flooded with stories of creativity, perseverance, and tenacity in the face of great hardship. For example:

  • In Petoskey, Michigan, downtown leaders are buoying local businesses by encouraging residents to buy gift cards to downtown stores to be redeemed once stay-at-home orders lift. To add an incentive to shop local, they are giving $25 in “downtown dollars” to anyone who purchases a gift card of $50 or greater value.
  • In Southern California, Leucadia 101, Encinitas 101, and Cardiff 101 Main Street Associations are partnering with the Cardiff-by-the-Sea Foundation and the Harbaugh Foundation to develop a special fund that will enable business owners to apply for grants ranging from $2,000 to $10,000.
  • And at Morgan Park Beverly Hills Business Association, a Chicago Special Service Area administrator is connecting local businesses to local, state, and federal resources. They are working hard to feature their local business that are providing curbside pickup, delivery services, and online sales.

These are just a handful of the hundreds of examples that abound. For four decades, the Main Street America program has supported preservation-based revitalization in more than 2,000 downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts in nearly every state in the country. Our network of intrepid Main Street leaders steered their communities through the explosion of online shopping, the Great Recession, the dot-com bomb, the proliferation of big box stores, and much more.

We have every faith our Main Street leaders are rising to—and will rise above—today’s challenge, too. To do so, they will need the help of Americans to support them through this challenging period.

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