Newsweek: How to Save Main Street

This Newsweek story about how one distressed town, Vineland, NJ, is starting to turn around its Main Street could be of interest to local planners as their decades long struggle to identify the appropriate strategies for Elkton continues. 

From Newsweek —–

After the housing bubble burst in 2007, the Wells Fargo mortgage office became yet another dead-weight property along the main drag in Vineland, N.J. “The blinds would always stay closed,” recalls Stephen Wilson, a baker with a storefront at the back of the same building. Not that there was any foot traffic for the mortgage office to attract. Until recently, Vineland’s main street was full of empty storefronts, and many of the city’s nearly 60,000 residents believed it was unsafe. “It really looked like a criminal area,” says Uzi Cohen, who recently opened a furniture store on Landis Avenue.

But this year, Wilson persuaded his landlord to let the Sweet Life Bakery expand from its location into the Wells Fargo space. Soon Vineland lost a defunct mortgage office and gained a corner shop to buy wedding cakes or sip cappuccinos. Wilson’s move was part of a larger growth trend: 60 businesses have been created around Vineland’s downtown in the past three years. While some of those failed, the total number of businesses in the area has hovered around 230. But even as the nationwide economy has tanked, the city has managed to generate a buzz that has put its downtown back on the map. “We have comments from people [visiting downtown] that said ‘I haven’t been downtown in years,’” says Gary Galloway, chairman of Main Street Vineland, a local nonprofit organized to help the city’s downtown. “The metamorphosis is unbelievable.”

The story of how Vineland has started to turn the corner offers lessons for reviving small businesses on main streets across the country. For this rural town, it was about offering government loans to kick-start small-business growth and then rallying local support to keep those new storefronts afloat. In Vineland, as in many other towns and cities, small businesses have been the “backbone” of the city’s economic growth, says Todd Noon, Main Street Vineland’s executive director. (the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street program, the national affiliate of Vineland’s nonprofit, says it has helped establish about 1,100 local programs to spur economic growth in local downtowns.)

Article continues:  How to Save Main Street – Newsweek.

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