Not Just A Pretty Face: The Case For A Revitalized Main Street
By Laurie Willow
From Issue 15: Summer 2012
The visual trip down Main Street in Gardiner has definitely improved in the last five years. There have been several major renovations to existing buildings and three years of the Cupcake Festival on Main Street. These revitalization efforts showed some promise and direction for our “downtown.” In the past couple of years, however, the process of beautifying and developing Main Street has pretty much ground to a halt. Why this standstill? What can we do to get it going again? Why even bother?
This pause can be attributed to a number of factors. The recession is one. It’s been felt by the entire country and, unfortunately, there is not much we can do about it on a local level except vote for those we think have good ideas about fixing it.
Another much more home-based factor is community and town government focus on creating and maintaining a beautiful, active face to represent the town; we need more of it. In order for an “off the beaten track” town like Gardiner to become a vital business center it must be a place with enough to offer that people make a point of going there. Critical mass is important too; one new business every other year won’t be transformative, whereas a rapid influx of new businesses has a greater chance of success.
Why spend money and time to revitalize Main Street? A quick internet search on “Beautify Main Street NY” turns up a lot of names. There are reasons all those towns have active Main Street Revitalization programs. Statistics show that a thriving and attractive Main Street adds to home values, helps attract business investment and improves the town reputation. Research places beauty as one of the top three factors in creating community pride in a town. Pride in your town brings people together, and Main Street is the most visible face of a town. Generally, the benefits associated with visual and economic development are the creation or preservation of jobs and small businesses, leading to new economic vitality and added revenues for existing businesses. An increase in the collection of commercial taxes from thriving businesses lowers residential taxes.
Ulster County feels strongly enough about the correlation between economically viable towns and beautiful Main Streets that it has put together a Main Street Strategic Toolbox. A look at the details of the “Land Use and Design” section shows that Gardiner is on the right track in some areas—sidewalk construction begins this summer, addressing UC’s call for “Street Design and Pedestrian orientation”—but it could stand to take a hard look at a couple of others. Ulster County suggests using incentives and streamlining approvals to encourage creative and small businesses. Gardiner’s approval process remains long and arduous. A more defined and less expensive Planning Board process for people who are willing to invest in a business on Main Street would go a long way towards revitalizing Main Street, as might laws limiting the amount of time a building can be abandoned. Gardiner can also research and apply for “Beautify Main Street” grants.
Support from the community is, of course, important too. Remember to buy from stores on Main Street whenever possible. We have a hardware store, a clothing store and an antiques/home decorating store. We have three caterer/restaurants. We have a bike shop and a great little wine shop. We have a florist/gift shop, and now we have massage by the minute. We have two real estate brokers, an architect and a haircutter. We have Pilates and chiropractic. These businesses only exist because of community support. They create jobs, tax revenue, and pride in our sweet little downtown Gardiner.