Main Street in small town America and the need to diversify businesses


Main Street

On my walk this morning to a coffee shop, east on Main left at Center, I came upon a new occupant of a recently empty storefront. On a street jammed with restaurants and retail shops, I was surprised to see that the new tenants are attorneys. The surprise was a pleasant one, and its not because I am in search of representation (knock on wood). Most lawyers I know are housed in big city business districts or within nameless, faceless office parks along highways. So I found this to be a nice, and interesting, discovery. Once I spotted a Norman Rockwell print in the window, The Problem We All Live With, and a framed letter that explains its significance to their practice I figured that the owners hadn’t simply stumbled upon the storefront on Main Street by accident.

The Rockwell Tribute

The Small Window Rockwell Tribute

Restaurants and pubs are great for small downtowns, but their presence can actually have a negative effect if they become too numerous. Small businesses that depend on daytime foot traffic aren’t helped much by a restaurant that concentrates its efforts on the nights and weekends crowd. After all, that is when the jewelry stores and spice shops are closed. Throw in the competition for exclusive parking spots and you will see that finding the right mix of eateries and retail is essential.

Professional services are another leg of the stool. Small towns need those, too. The best towns, in my humble opinion, provide a mixture of everything. They are places where you can get a bite to eat, grab a beer with friends, window shop, get tax advice and just sit quietly on a public bench and watch the people go by. Or write a blog. These places are active and more resilient than towns that rely strictly on the fickle and ever changing pallets of people as their sole economic strategy.  Providing different reasons for people to come downtown means that different people will come downtown. Which is healthy for the city. My friends at the Project for Public Spaces call this the “Power of 10.”


Victorian Architecture

Across the street

Locating businesses on Main Street is step one. Selling their products and services is the ultimate test. So give them a boost this weekend and shop local.

On a related note, here is another plug for a recent report that outlines what works in small towns and big cities alike. The findings point out the importance of providing a sense of place and connects great places to economic gain. The cover photo for the report is from the same street that’s above looking in the opposite direction.