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The Downtown Strong: Building Resilient Economies grant was a grant provided by the U.S. Economic Development Administration through Missouri Main Street Connection (MMSC) that will have continued impact on Missouri communities.

As the Downtown Strong: Building Resilient Economies grant comes to a close it is a good time to look back and reflect on the process, the partners, and the impact.

The grant was initiated to help Missouri’s small businesses and communities address the challenges faced in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. MMSC developed Downtown Strong, after receiving funds from the Economic Development Administration (EDA), as a service-based grant focusing on the retention of current businesses, recruitment of new businesses, job growth, and the transition of ownership or continued succession of existing businesses to support economic recovery and enhance the resiliency of Missouri’s small businesses and communities. The specific direction of the services provided through this grant came from MMSC’s observed strength of Main Street and experience with Missouri’s Main Streets during other periods of crisis.  The economic reports collected during the Great Recession from Main Street programs in Missouri showed a continued addition of net new jobs meaning Main Streets are economically resilient. This grant was aimed at applying those same principles to the recent economic hardship and boosting the Main Street effect in today’s challenging times. 

MMSC enlisted the services of qualified consultants who could provide direct services to communities through their downtown organization and struggling small businesses in Main Street communities. 



Initially, the grant started with 82 recipients in 20 communities including 16 Main Street organizations and 66 businesses.  Each of the grant recipients received one to six services for a grand total of almost 200 services in all. That’s a lot! To provide these services, MMSC contracted thirteen consultants.

If MMSC, the consultants, the businesses, and the Main Street organizations were honest, this process was harder than any initially thought.  Despite the challenges that arose during the implementation of the grant, the results are undeniable.

There were many successes and “assists” during the process. 

The first service was provided by MarksNelson who helped Libations in Lee’s Summit as they worked toward changing their business model and looked at buying property. Additionally, Old Town Cape in Cape Girardeau almost immediately worked with Jay Schlinsog of Downtown Professionals Network to develop an amenities plan that helped them identify how they could impact downtown safety. 



Some of the organizational services were more customized. Both Downtown Lee’s Summit in Lee’s Summit, MO and Downtown Excelsior Partnership (DEP) in Excelsior Springs, MO worked with Russ Volmert of FORA Planning to develop a wayfinding plan.  DEP Executive Director Lyndsey Baxter was creative in pooling resources and, in addition to the wayfinding plan, DEP worked with Joe Borgstrom of Place + Main to do a Market Analysis and Real Estate Redevelopment Strategy for strategic properties in their downtown.


General marketing, social media strategy, search engine optimization (SEO), as well as point of sale (POS) research, website, and online sales development were in great demand with the participating businesses, and our marketing consultants delivered! 



Under recent, new ownership, I.B. Nuts in Washington, MO worked with Chimera Creative Works to update their brand, evaluate their business opportunities, diversify their customer base, and enhance and update their online presence.   It was a lot of work for both the consultant and the new owner.  But the results were transformational!  Owner Holly Wunderlich commented that “it helped me put things in writing and focus my business on what I want to accomplish in the next few years.”


Annie Em’s at Home in Cape Girardeau worked with BOLD Marketing on a social media strategy, POS consultation, and development of a much needed website.  Owner Emilie Stephens Buelow remarked that “the process provided me the help I needed to move forward in areas that I had no idea how to navigate.  I didn’t know how much work would be involved but it was work I needed to do, and the guidance provided through the grant process made it possible. The outcomes from the work I accomplished with the consultant I couldn’t have done on my own.”



Other organizations and the businesses needed help with the “business” side of things.  Succession planning, staff transition planning, business plans, and business evaluations were provided to a number of businesses and Main Street organizations.  Main Street Kirksville received help developing their policies and procedures. They also needed to figure out how to move forward regarding the feasibility and structure of establishing either a pop-up shop or full business incubator service in one of the open buildings around their square.  Dana Thomas with BOLD Marketing facilitated a process that helped their board make important decisions around this project.



Vicky Sonenberg with Cygnet Strategies worked with Cindy McClain and her husband in Independence, MO, who are passionate about downtown. They own multiple properties and businesses that make up a large part of Independence Square. According to Cygnet’s Analysis and Recommendation report, Vicky worked with Cindy to help twelve of the businesses and their two umbrella organizations, McClain Restaurant Group and CRM Stores, “mitigate economic impacts of the pandemic and foster a stronger more resilient business model for each business as well as the umbrella organizations.”  Cindy said, “This has been a great help and a push to be better, get better, and find the strength and creativity to stand out as a small business!  Having been awarded the grants, Downtown Strong became more than a tag line - it became movement.”


Important Main Street training was provided as well.  Randy Wilson with Community Design Solutions provided Main Street Chillicothe and its community a training on the Universal Principles of Good Design and Historic Preservation.  After the training was complete, Main Street Chillicothe immediately incorporated what they learned into their work.



And those were just some examples.  There’s more you can find on our blog or by asking around Missouri!

The intent of the program was to outline services in a way that businesses and organizations could easily identify as a need and to provide a consultant to deliver that service. This worked great with some of the businesses and most of the organizations.  But there were many lessons learned.

The lesson everyone learned was that we (all) had to be flexible.  Businesses often didn’t truly recognize their needs or were not able to prioritize them.  In the aftermath of the pandemic, their situations and needs often changed quickly. In trying to help with the application process, specific services were identified upfront but some were too vague, and many were found to be overlapping in the delivery.

Considering all these factors, the consultants initially went to work to provide the participants requested services. It was soon realized, to no surprise, that the services that needed to be delivered were more unique to each individual recipient.  On the one hand, this worked well as MMSC tried to connect each consultant with the businesses or organizations suited to their specific skill set.  But logistics, timing, and, yes, human limitations, sometimes interfered.  On the other hand, unique was sometimes perceived as unequal. Lastly, all of it took substantially more time than anyone anticipated.



Lessons learned are good.  It means that the process was seen with open eyes.  Starting a project of this magnitude from the ground up is hard work, but it was well worth the effort.  In the end, though not perfect, the process resulted in MMSC, consultants, businesses, and organizations working together to improve, grow, save, and transition businesses as well as advance Main Street organizations, their impact, and the downtowns across Missouri.  The Downtown Strong grant program will have long term positive implications in the businesses, organizations, and downtowns it served.  Most people would call that success!

The services included in this article were prepared by Missouri Main Street Connection, Inc. using Federal funds under award 05-79-06056 from Economic Development Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Development Administration or the U.S. Department of Commerce.

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Attendees of this year’s conference know just how powerful THEY and each individual in Missouri’s Main Street communities are when it comes to making a positive community impact. Representatives from communities of all sizes across Missouri attended the 2023 Missouri’s Premier Downtown Revitalization Conference in St. Louis where they discovered the power of People-Centered Revitalization. See what a fantastic time attendees had while learning about the Main Street Approach™, which is the framework people can use to empower transformation and successful change in a downtown district’s physical, social, economic, and civic components.



This year we started the conference even bigger than ever. Wednesday, July 26th was packed with things to do for early arrivers before the kick-off evening event and opening assembly the next day. While local program directors and their support staff took part in their monthly directors meeting and semiannual support staff meeting, other attendees embarked on one of two different concurrent educational tours. The “Makers and Shaker in Delmar Main Street District” took attendees on an exploration of Delmar Boulevard, within the Delmar Main Street district, where there is a vibrant mix of makers as well as collaborative spaces, like Maxine Clark’s Delmar Divine, that houses dozens of non-profits together to forge partnerships to move St. Louis forward.



The “Food Entrepreneurs are Shaking Up the Food Industry” tour took attendees on a munching tour to both Dutchtown Main Streets and the Soulard Farmers Market in the Soulard Historic District where they learned about each districts food entrepreneur ecosystems while enjoying select offerings from current residents of the spaces.




There were two special sessions attendees could attend on Wednesday. The first being the Deep Dive with guest speakers from the Missouri Department of Economic Development Community Block Grant (CDBG) and Iowa Main Street shared about the new Downtown Revitalization fund through MO DED’s CDBG and how Iowa’s Main Streets have utilized their own CDBG funds since Missouri modeled this new opportunity after Iowa’ s program.




The second special session was an invite only session sponsored by St. Louis Development Corporation (SLDC). During this session attendees got to hear from each of the three St. Louis Main Streets programs that MMSC has worked with over the past few years and the success they have had in organizing together to make an impact on their communities. If you want to learn more about the success of the St. Louis Main Streets programs Dutchtown Main Streets, Laclede’s Landing, and Delmar Main Street, check out this article (Sharing Successes from the Three Districts in the Pilot St. Louis Main Streets Program).




As always, the Evening Opening Reception is a fun kick-off party and 2023 was no different. On top of being in a cool location, Ballpark Village’s Crown Room, attendees were getting to know other attendees at the event they may not have known before by playing bingo. Some of the items on their bingo cards included: has completed Route 66, has visited Disneyland Paris, has public art in their downtown, has attended over 5 MMSC conference, and many more. After getting their competitive spirit fix, you could see groups of people across the venue eating appetizers and networking together.




The conference officially started on Thursday, July 27th with the opening assembly which was crafted by our staff to embody our theme of “People-Centered Revitalization”. During our Welcome and Opening Assembly several Main Street programs highlighted the success they have had working together with their community and volunteers. Cape Girardeau, Jackson, Albany, and the St. Louis Main Streets districts Delmar, Dutchtown, and Laclede’s Landing presented how it was the people of their community who were the catalysts to boost the economy while also putting community vision in action. At the end of the assembly, Maxine Clark held a special heart ceremony to recognize the Main Street Directors who were present at the conference.




Following the Welcome and Opening Assembly attendees were able to start learning from a multitude of other speakers about various topics. This year our staff selected the tracts of Physical, Social, Economic, Civic, Historic Preservation, Foundational, and Urban for the offered sessions.

Some of the attendees were clear about which sessions were their favorites with the reviews we have received so far. The “Main Streets Role in Addressing Social and Economic Challenges” was one session that stood out as we heard all the little nuggets people were able to take away from the speaker including: the 13 touchpoints for trust, the Main Street organization’s ability to have influence over developers, nuanced views on equity, and adapting the Main Street Approach™ to address the realities and challenges of our community.




Additionally, high remarks were given to “Microenterprise Financing for Downtown Development”, “Bitesize Placemaking”, “Successful Event Planning and then Measuring their Impact”, and “Beg, Borrow, and Steal”. People took away so much from these sessions with our favorites being “be proud of your existing downtown and be proud as it grows even better.”




Once again, the ShowMe Bash & Pitch Party were a blast. Attendees brought the excitement of the conference to Armory STL to see great pitches for the Creative Space Activation Grant. Five communities were looking to win the $10,000 Creative Space Activation Grant and presented their projects to the judges made up of MMSC board members. Historic Downtown Liberty, Inc. walked away as the winner with $10,000 for their project. Their application and following pitch at the event highlighted the great need for the project in their district and the strong support they have.




Missouri Main Street Connection always ends conference with an elegant finale. Following the sessions and Closing Assembly on Friday, July 28th, the Evening of Excellence Awards Ceremony & Dinner was held at the Archview Ballroom at Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark. This is always a special evening at our conference where MMSC presents awards to communities, businesses, Main Street programs, and individuals to commemorate and honor their commitment to their district as well as the achievements of Main Street revitalization. Once more there was something extra special about some of the award recipients.



Check out the Press Release section on our website to see all the awards MMSC awarded during the Evening of Excellence Awards Ceremony. One presentation was a surprise to everyone in attendance. Diane Hannah, MMSC’s Special Programs Coordinator, received gifts from MMSC’s staff and board members for her years of service to MMSC and Missouri’s Main Streets for her retirement.




As communities departed the conference, they took with them the knowledge and connections they gained to their communities to share with others. Kristine Molloy from My Hometown Carrollton commented to our staff after conference, “I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed my first Main Street Conference! It was amazing and very well organized. I am looking forward to getting a group from My Hometown Carrollton to attend next summer.”



As we take all the feedback provided by the session surveys and overall conference survey, we continue to make our conference better each year for each attendee. MMSC is excited to see you in Kansas City in 2024!

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In 2023, Missouri’s Premier Downtown Revitalization Conference is calling St. Louis home. The city of St. Louis is at the core of St. Louis’s sprawling metropolitan county that stretches out to include dozens of municipalities and cities like Kirkwood, University City, Ferguson, and Sappington. This city has a complex history just like many places across the state and nation, but its complex past is not holding back people from pushing forward for change and accomplishing great things. This is part of the inspiration behind this year’s theme, “People-Centered Revitalization.”

There are three St. Louis historic commercial district currently participating in the St. Louis Main Streets program piloted by Missouri Main Street Connection over the past few years. Each of these unique districts has their own challenges, but also their own strengthens and opportunities. When you come to St. Louis to learn from our keynote speakers and other speakers, don’t miss the opportunity to enrich what you are learning in the session rooms with some self-guided excursions into St. Louis.




Pictured Above: Dutchtown Main Streets.

The historic commercial center of Dutchtown originates where Meramec Street crosses Virginia Avenue. Anchored to the east by the towering spires of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church and to the west by the Bavarian-styled Feasting Fox (under renovation and reopening next year), Downtown Dutchtown’s small-scale, mixed-use historic architecture creates an environment that balances urban density alongside a welcoming neighborhood atmosphere. With the help of partnerships, Dutchtown Main Streets has reactivated the largest park in their neighborhood, the Marquette Park, and installed new murals on Meramec Street. Dutchtown Main Streets and the Dutchtown neighborhood warmly welcome you to visit “a neighborhood that bears the weight of our city’s past and stands tall in the truth of who we are today. We are full of people who have experienced growth, contraction, and growth again. We are 
Dutchtown Proud.”



Picture Above: Dutchtown Main Streets 


Today, Downtown Dutchtown is home to many places you need to visit while in St. Louis to shop, eat, and learn about niche businesses, concept spaces, and more including: several eclectic boutiques and resale shops, creative services, a halal grocer, and a couple of unique concept spaces: The Wink and Urban Eats. The Wink is a retail incubator allowing small, local makers and sellers to try their hand at the brick-and-mortar business. Urban Eats provides a similar ecosystem for aspiring restauranteurs, with both shared kitchen space and vendor spaces encircling a shared dining area. 



Pictured Above: Urban Eats in Dutchtown. 

Additionally, you can stop grab a bite to eat at Tacos La Jefa that brought the birria craze, All Rolled Up who makes unique egg roll creations in both sweet and savory forms, Beignet All Day with a St. Louis twist to the popular New Orleans Treat, Original Crusoe’s who has been serving up classic comfort food to the neighborhood for over 40 years, and Marie’s Snack Shack with expertly grilled St. Louis-style barbecue.  There’s a lot to love about Dutchtown, with its rich history and promising future. MMSC hopes you explore this neighborhood, meet the neighbors, and learn what makes them “Dutchtown Proud!”


Laclede’s Landing



Pictured Above: Laclede's Landing 

This tiny neighborhood is tucked between two bridges, a highway, and a river, but the residents, business owners, and other stakeholders are not letting their challenges overshadow their amazing opportunities: being the only Saint Louis neighborhood and commercial district on the Mississippi River, having beautiful building stock, and the St. Louis Gateway Arch National Park on the other side of Eads Bridge. The Laclede’s Landing Main Street Board of Directors invites you to plan on coming to Laclede’s Landing for an excursion during your time in St. Louis for Missouri’s Premier Downtown Conference. Download this Tour Guide created by Laclede’s Landing Main Street and the Missouri Historical Society. This guide will take you to points of interest in the district, provide historical insight to the significance of the architecture and the district’s role in Missouri’s history, and areas to dine.



Additionally, there is a “Lunch on the Landing” happening at the Katherine Ward Burg Garden every Friday from 11:30am to 1:30pm with food trucks, live music, and community (Download the invite card here). Laclede’s Landing is a short and safe walk—under one mile—from our conference hotel, the Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark.  You can walk north across Market Street to Kiener Plaza Park then west past the old courthouse crossing over the pedestrian land bridge and greenspace to access and walk through the Arch grounds.





Pictured Above: Delmar Main Street 

This nine mile, East-West boulevard and commercial corridor with a complex past stretches through the city from Vandeventer to N Price Rd. Over the past few years, Delmar Boulevard is coming full circle on the unity behind how the street originally got its name, which according to records found in the History of St. Louis Neighborhoods was the result of two landowners, one from Delaware and one from Maryland, living on opposite sides of the road who combined their estate names (Norbury L. Wayman, 1980, Digitally accessed from www.stlouis-mo.gov). Delmar Main Street is working through their second year as champions to “identify and remedy causes of racial and economic inequality, reduce gentrification, and create opportunities for people of color and women” as community members from both sides of Delmar Boulevard are coming together to “Reimagine Delmar” as united through Delmar Main Street.


Pictured Above: Delmar Main Street 

The Delmar Main Street Board of Directors invites you to come see ‘Delmar UNITED’ while grabbing a bite to eat, shop local businesses, and see the changes that has happened. Two local restaurants you will want to visit are Brew Tulum Specialty Coffee Experience that serves a wide variety of handcrafted Mexican meals, specialty coffee, & desserts and Deli Divine that serves Jewish American food as a Jewish Deli and a full market.


Pictured Above: Deli Divine in Delmar.

These three districts have utilized the Main Street Approach™ over the past few years to do amazing things, but they are not the only places where there are people doing great work. We can also learn from districts like Kirkwood and North Grand who are examples of both thriving and developing districts in St. Louis.

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Sending people to a conference can be a big investment when you consider the hotel, travel, and conference registration costs, especially when sending multiple people. While the cost of this investment may look big upfront, there is a huge return on investment for communities of any size through the energization of volunteers and staff and the generation of new ideas and connections to make local Main Street efforts more fruitful. For Missouri’s Premier Downtown Revitalization Conference hosted in St. Louis in 2023, communities have many potential opportunities available to them to help reduce the price of attending conference.

Missouri Main Street Connection Scholarships

Missouri Main Street Connection (MMSC) recognizes that for some programs the investment of coming to the conference can be a barrier, that is why we work with partners to offer scholarships to select communities where our missions overlap. If your community has an agreement with MMSC, keep an eye out for communications coming from our staff about scholarships that we have available for you. Another opportunity to communities that have reached the Accredited and Associate levels in MMSC’s tier system is a free scholarship to support the work they are doing and to reward their implementation of the Main Street Approach™. This is a big perk for rallying support in programs just starting for their benefits from MMSC that come in through execution of the Main Street Approach™.


Local Partners

Looking inside your community is another place you can find funding to cover conference registration costs, sometimes in surprising places. Organizations and companies that have supported Main Streets in the past include local service clubs like: Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs, and Kiwanis Clubs; Local Banks; utility companies; and the Chamber of Commerce. Reaching out to make that initial connection is sometimes all it takes, though it is the simplest but often most intimidating step. We hope the words of MMSC’s State Director Gayla Roten, who was the local director of the Branson Main Street program before becoming the State Director of MMSC, always says, “We don’t have because we don’t ask” can inspire you. Take these words of encouragement and start a conversation by setting aside the fear of potential rejections.

Another MMSC staff member who has experience in securing funding during their time as a local director is Keith Winge, currently MMSC’S State Community Development Director. When Keith was on staff as the Executive Director of Downtown Excelsior Partnership (DEP) roughly a decade ago, he partnered with the Rotary Club of Excelsior Springs to help send himself to the state conference. Keith Winge recalled,

“MMSC shared a list of places where Main Street programs could potentially find money and the Rotary was on the list which would have never crossed my mind in the first place. I reached out to a Rotarian with information about how attending the Conference would help me develop as a Main Street professional and grow DEP’s positive impact on our community and they were in.”


There are many options open to your local Main Street program to discover funding that can assist in helping community members attend conference, you just have to know where to look and not be afraid to ask. Missouri Main Street Connection has created a sample letter and flyer that you can use to start these conversations with potential partners in your community.

Download the Sample Letter Here.

Download the Scholarship Flyer Here.

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Starting a new program via a pilot creates many opportunities to learn, especially in the Main Street world. That is because the Main Street Approach™ is a model with distinct principles and methodology that forms the base of any Main Street program which then can be adaptively implemented to fit the needs of a community of any size. Missouri Main Street Connection has learned lessons, made connections, and had hard work pay off since starting the urban pilot program St. Louis Main Streets in 2019. There are now three Main Street districts that are participating in the St. Louis Main Streets program who are all working to improve their little part of the larger city by implementing the time-tested principles of Main Street.

Historic commercial districts of all sizes are different in their density, housing options, services, and public spaces, but they have similarities as they each can be the center of commerce or activities for the area population or community. Each district can bring people together, which is why Main Street as a tool fits perfectly in both rural and urban districts, as it is a community-led revitalization effort focused on the quality-of-life issues related to social, economic, physical, and civic themes – the Main Street Approach™. Some of the ways that Main Street districts of all sizes can revitalize or improve their district are:

  • Design: Enhancing the physical and visual assets of the district, such as improving the streetscape, signage, lighting, landscaping, and historic buildings.

Pictured Above: Mini-Façade Grant awarded to Queen’s Nail & Spa Salon by Dutchtown Main Street to promote exterior improvement of businesses that attract economic activity and show off great businesses.


  • Promotion: Creating a positive image of the district and attracting customers, investors, and visitors through events, marketing, branding, and social media.


Pictured Above: Performers at Downtown Maryville’s Art, Rhythm, and Brews event.

  • Economic Vitality: Strengthening the district’s economy by supporting existing businesses, encouraging new businesses, diversifying the mix of goods and services, and facilitating property development.


Pictured Above: Deli Divine opened in Delmar Main Street just off the corner of Delmar Boulevard and Belt Avenue in the Delmar DivINe building.


  • Organization: Building a strong foundation for the revitalization effort by cultivating partnerships, community involvement, leadership development, fundraising, and advocacy.


Pictured Above: Community members participating in break out groups during the Town Hall hosted in West Plains where they will decide on wildly important goals to be incorporated in the foundation of the Main Street program they are forming through the Community Empowerment Grant program.


In St. Louis, through community feedback and stakeholder input, Missouri Main Street Connection helped each district identify their unique competitive advantage, leverage the power of residents and local stakeholders, and identify a series of short and long-term projects.


Each of the St. Louis Main Streets districts faced various challenges and accessed different opportunities depending on their specific context and characteristics. Some of the challenges and opportunities were:



  • Competing with online shopping, big box stores, and suburban malls that offer convenience, variety, and lower prices.
  • Dealing with issues such as crime, safety, cleanliness, parking, traffic, and homelessness that may deter customers and investors.
  • Preserving the historic and cultural identity of the district while accommodating new development and growth.
  • Engaging and representing the diverse and often marginalized stakeholders of the district, such as residents, business owners, property owners, workers, and visitors.
  • Securing adequate funding, resources, and support from public and private sectors for the revitalization efforts.



  • Capitalizing on the unique assets and competitive advantages of the district, such as its location, architecture, history, culture, events, and niche markets.
  • Attracting and retaining customers, investors, and visitors who value the authentic, local, and human-scale experience of the district.
  • Leveraging the power of residents and local stakeholders who are passionate, creative, and committed to the district’s success.
  • Collaborating and partnering with other urban Main Street districts or organizations to share best practices, resources, and advocacy.
  • Innovating and adapting to the changing needs and preferences of the market and the community.


One of the early lessons was in recognizing partners and opportunities with the program. St. Louis Development Corporation, the Office of the Mayor, and Greater St. Louis Inc., each identified Main Street as a priority. These entities, with their priorities, have a unique role in helping each Main Street district accomplish their specific goals and priorities for the short and long-term as partners. The implementation work is just beginning in St. Louis and Missouri Main Street Connection is working with each district to help them realize their dreams and goals.

Pictured above: Group photo of in Laclede’ Landing.

While the pilot program is coming to an end in 2023, Missouri Main Street Connection’s work is not finished in St. Louis. Other urban commercial and neighborhood districts throughout St. Louis and the state have expressed interest in organizing a Main Street program, implementing the Main Street principles, and making change in their little part of a larger city. If you are interested in starting an urban Main Street program, check out the Urban Forum at Missouri Main Street’s Downtown Revitalization Conference in St. Louis. It will feature a Main Street America representative sharing urban success stories from across the country as well as each St. Louis District sharing their journey, accomplishments to date, and goals for the future. The Urban Forum will be on Wednesday, July 26th from 10am to 11:30am and is free to attend. If you are interested in attending the Urban Forum and learning more about urban district revitalization, please email us at info@momainstreet.org

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The Downtown Strong: Building Resilient Economies grant is a grant provided by the U.S. Economic Development Administration through Missouri Main Street Connection (MMSC) that continues to impact Missouri communities.

Over that past two years, MMSC and our team of consultants have been working with 16 Main Street organizations and 61 businesses in 20 communites across the state  to build more resilent economies and stronger downtowns.  The Downtown Strong: Building Resilient Economies grant services will be completed this September. As the grant nears it completion, the momentum it has created across the state is still growing. One of the recipients of the Downtown Strong Grant that demonstrates the long-lasting impact of receiving trailored services is Vision Carthage.

As a newer Main Street organization in Carthage, MO, Vision Carthage saw this grant as an opportunity to mitigate the economic impacts of the pandemic that their district had felt while fostering a stronger, more resilient downtown business environment. In the fall of 2021, they received assistance from Cygnet Strategies, LLC where a recruitment plan for local entrepreneurs to open new businesses downtown as well as a 2nd story development plan that explored options for utilizing the upper stories of buildings were developed. In 2021, a team from Cygnet Strategies traveled to Carthage where they assessed the district’s situation and talked to local leaders and business and property owners firsthand.

Based upon the observations of the team that visited Carthage, Vicky Soderberg, principal of Cygnet Strategies, recognized that many of the issues and ideas for improvement affected both business recruitment and upper story development in downtown Carthage and required strategies that worked complementarily together. Additionally, Vision Carthage had previously established a set of goals and strategies, including transformation strategies, as part of their organization’s development. She delivered an Analysis and Recommendations Report developed from the findings of their initial site visit that tied together the improvement strategies with the organization’s established transformation strategies, using an approach that understood the vast number of changing circumstances and growing list of needs not formerly identified.

Pictured Above: Vision Carthage’s ice-skating is a great opportunity for families to come downtown and have fun during Hometown Holidays.

The report outlined five targeted actions to strengthen Carthage’s downtown and its resiliency while building upon the already-identified, established, and developed community-based organizational strategies. She challenged the organization to:

  • Lead changes to regulatory frameworks and knock down barriers to doing business in Carthage.

  • Increase awareness of and advocate for development that goes beyond the first floor.

  • Outline and communicate a well-defined downtown experience to help businesses succeed and make residential development desirable.

  • Prioritize community development efforts that align with Carthage’s identity and vision.

  • Account for and articulate the value and impact of Vision Carthage via storytelling designed to enhance downtown visibility and awareness.


Cygnet Strategies went on to break down these actions into smaller, tactical steps that Vision Carthage could work through to accomplish the overall action goal.




The director of Vision Carthage at the time, Abi Almandinger, shared that having the team from Cygnet Strategies visit Carthage provided a fresh perspective and an outsider’s viewpoint that was invaluable. Since the site visit and report was delivered, Vision Carthage has had a transition in leadership with a new director. Jen Kirby, the new director, shared that having this report and its recommendations have been beneficial to her through the transition.  Not only has it provided an analysis that helped her in her learning curve, but it has also given her a tangible reference to use as she, the Board, and other volunteers make plans.  She noted it has been great to have something to use as a guide and a resource, knowing they are able to tweak the recommendations to fit their ever-changing needs and opportunities.

The services included in this article were prepared by Missouri Main Street Connection, Inc. using Federal funds under award 05-79-06056 from Economic Development Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Development Administration or the U.S. Department of Commerce.

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Missouri Main Street Connection is hosting the 2023 Missouri’s Premier Downtown Revitalization Conference in St. Louis. This year the atmosphere MMSC welcomes you into is focused on People-Centered Revitalization which is community vision in action. From the educational sessions to the tours and events, attendees can expect to see how they themselves, from communities of all sizes are the catalyst to create partnerships, build community, foster entrepreneurs, and boost the local economy while preserving and promoting the culture of their district and downtown. It is the people who are the power behind Main Street. By utilizing action plans and the Main Street framework people transform their community’s vision into implementation that addresses current and future needs.


At the conference, you will see familiar terms as MMSC leans into the foundation of the Main Street Approach™. Sessions will explore the guiding principles of each of the four points which are respectively rooted in the economic, civic, physical, and social characteristics of each Main Street district. The Main Street Approach sets the model for local Main Street programs to utilize the four points in committees that accelerate change through empowering community stakeholders to work collaboratively for a collective impact on the community.


Pictured Above: Downtown Lee’s Summit Board

You will find that it is impossible for Main Street to work on its own, for it is all about partnerships. There are countless stakeholders and relationships that are vital to the sustainability of a Main Street program and success of its initiatives. During the conversations you have at the conference lean into how to prioritize people and relationships. Who needs to be engaged you may ask? We say everyone should be engaged whether they come to your table and provide input, or the Main Street programs staff, board, or committee goes to their table. Though there is only 24-hours in a day, there are ways to build connections with stakeholders first through trust and then a shared problem or common goal.


Pictured Above: Cape Girardeau

The goal of Main Street isn’t to have a thriving downtown in and of itself, but to nurture the revitalization and creation of an equitable, sustainable, healthy, resilient, and vibrant community whose heart and core is a Main Street that provides spaces to shop, work, live, and play. As we have learned in recent years, people make the place. It is all about a balance between a communities rich, unique, and often complex history which informs its present and people. Main Street programs can leverage their approach and expertise to transform and build a community which listens to residents’ voices in implementing ideas.


Pictured Above: Small Business in Independence, MO.

MMSC invites attendees to embrace the power that people hold as drivers of their respective local economy in roles that range from small business owners, entrepreneurs, or generational business owners to patrons, volunteers, visitors, or residents. Everyone plays a role in today’s society to impact their local community.

Missouri Main Street Connection is excited about how a People-Centered Revitalization mindset can inform and impact local Main Street program’s implementation of the Main Street Approach™. We hope you will join us to learn from fantastic speakers and our entire Main Street network in St. Louis.

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Missouri Main Street Connection staff and several board members visited Boston for the 2023 Main Street Now conference. This annual conference is a time where local Main Street programs from across the country, and sometimes international guests, convene to hear other local Main Street directors, consultants, and stakeholders present educational sessions on new initiatives to implement the Main Street Approach™ to revitalize local Main Street districts and their economies. This year Main Street America delivered a fantastic conference by curating brilliant speakers to learn from. There were many great ideas and new perspectives that Missouri Main Street Connection is bringing back with them.


Pictured above left to right: Michael Wagler, Iowa Main Street; Laura Krizov, Michigan Main Street Center; Darrel Young, Main Street America; Gayla Roten, Missouri Main Street Connection.


Our State Coordinator, Gayla Roten, alongside Michigan Main Street Center’s State Coordinator, Laura Krizov, were recognized for their multiple terms of service on the Coordinator Leadership Council. The award was presented by Michael Wagler, Iowa Main Street, and Darrel Young, Main Street America.

The MMSC staff, board, and volunteers attended incredible sessions that enabled them to better serve Missouri’s Main Street communities. They had major takeaways from attending conference that they want to share with you.

Gayla Roten

As the state Main Street program, we are continually educating our local Main Street programs about the importance of the roles and responsibilities of a Main Street Board of Directors. We give examples of the benefit of a working board over a governing board and why a working board is vital to the success of the Main Street organization.

I am delighted to share that the Missouri Main Street Board of Directors are an amazing working board. They just don’t talk about it, but they are leading by example. They have made a substantial commitment to Missouri Main Street network communities and districts we serve every day.

This is shown through their unwavering dedication, we had four of our board members and one Advisory member attend the Main Street Now conference in Boston and three of these members also attended two training days prior to the conference with the State Coordinators around the United States. This gave them real-time exposure to the Main Street movement around the nation, each of them learned new best practices and received new insight in community revitalization. Our Board President Bob Lewis, Vice-President Chris Johnston, Immediate Past President Steven Hoffman, Board Member Russ Volmert, and Advisory Member Erika Hagan attended alongside the Missouri Main Street team.

I am so thankful for such a dedicated Missouri Main Street Board of Directors that’s leading a National-recognized Main Street organization into the future for Missouri.

Logan Breer – The Endless Opportunity for All on Main Street to Live Life to the Fullest

In abundance or scarcity, it is about the people and their mindset fixed on what is possible that determines the outcome rather than what has happened in the past. Conference was full of examples of innovation, overcoming adversity, activities, and excitement which showed that local Main Street programs are making an impact on the vibrancy of their districts and surrounding communities including everyone. I saw implementation in the activation of an empty lot left by fire through temporary programming that brought young and old, singles and families. As well as excitement from what Main Street Sweetwater, TN shared about their 2017 solar eclipse experience, with approximately 50,000k visitors, in preparation for the 2024 solar eclipse in which the path of totality travels over Cape Girardeau, MO.

Keith Winge

The thing I most like about attending the Main Street Now conferences is the diversity of sessions and topics. I can always find something that is a new trend, it could be a session on a basic principle as a refresher, or a new idea related to that principle. In fact, my problem is there are usually 2-3 sessions that I am interested in that are taking place at the same time. The conference always fills my mind...and heart...with ideas for the upcoming year.


Pictured above: Area in Boston taken by MMSC Staff during their exploration of the city.


Ben White

The Main Street Now Conference is such a great opportunity to learn from professionals with diverse experiences and backgrounds. These sessions and conversations enable local programs and Missouri Main Street Connection to bring back resources for continued economic development in Missouri communities. The energy from this conference truly is contagious and is such a great opportunity to network with other programs across the nation. Boston, with its storied, historic past, provided the perfect backdrop for these conservations, and I am already excited to go again in Alabama in 2024!

Katelyn Brotherton

The Main Street Now conference is such a rewarding experience to see so many states and local communities take the same concept – the Main Street Approach™ - and apply it so uniquely and effectively to their individual circumstances and needs. The Main Street Approach™ can be tailored to fit any situation and need. Learning from each other is the true beauty of the Main Street network and having the opportunity to do so on a national scale is so exciting and inspiring. I always try to seek out sessions that highlight the work done in communities in other states just to be able to hear what they are doing and how they are accomplishing it to help bring those ideas back to Missouri for our programs. In addition to the sessions, the conference is invaluable for the time it allows us to spend with like-minded people who are also dedicated to implementing Main Street, which this year was over 1900 people! Connecting with new faces across the country, but also having dedicated time to learn with our attendees from Missouri, is so worthwhile.


Pictured above left to right: Bob Lewis and Gayla Roten volunteering as Downtown Experts at Main Street America’s Dr. Downtown booth for Main Street Now attendees to get professional advice.


Pictured above front to back: Dr. Steven Hoffman, Russ Volmert, Chris Johnston, Janet Hlavacek, and Bob Lewis at Cheers for MMSC’s state dinner.


Chris Johnston

As Vice-President of MMSC, I got the opportunity to travel to Boston with the staff, attend informative conference sessions, and make new friends. As part of conference, Main Street America offers tours that allow you to explore the surrounding history and see the amazing architecture. I had an amazing time with Main Street friends on the Freedom Trail.

Steven Hoffman

Each year I am inspired by the work of so many people in communities across the country who devote themselves to making their communities better. Watching the GAMSA awards is particularly emotional for me, seeing communities transformed and improved while remembering when I walked across the stage in Atlanta when Cape Girardeau won the award. It is so rewarding to see the results of the work people are doing in their communities, and it invigorates me to know that collectively we are making a positive change in the world. Each year I am also impressed with the collaborative spirit that everyone has, willing to share ideas and help one another succeed. Sitting in the coordinators meetings and seeing the respect and admiration other coordinators have for the Missouri program makes me so proud of our Missouri team and what we are able to accomplish working together in community.

Pictured above: Margaret Waterman at the Big Bash hosted at the New England Aquarium.


Margaret Waterman

My big takeaway is the power of passion and the commitment to positive change, which I witnessed among attendees, speakers, and even exhibitors, and the steps people took to cultivate relationship (Missouri at Cheers!).  I was especially moved by artist Janell Nelson of the Englewood Arts Collective, Chicago. Her session "Engaging Community through Visual Communication" illustrated her group’s passion for “values-aligned projects with purpose”.  She talked about using many elements of graphic design and branding to “cultivate joy” and engage residents in designing and making a new gateway mural to their South Side neighborhood.   She and the project were inspirational to my work on the Design Committee at Old Town Cape!

Conferences are great places to learn new things from other attendees, the location of the conference, and the speakers. Missouri Main Street Connection thanks Main Street America for hosting Main Street Now annually for our staff, board, and local communities to learn and gather inspiration. If you missed attending Main Street Now in 2023 you can join Missouri Main Street Connection in St. Louis in July for the Missouri’s Premier Downtown Revitalization Conference to experience conference while you wait for next year to go to Birmingham, Alabama for the 2024 Main Street Now conference.

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Ben White »

Campbell Main Street has been a Main Street program for just over 2 years. In that time, they have been in the Community Empowerment Grant program, a competitively selected grant for services that assist in establishing a locally empowered organization focused on downtown development through adopted strategies, developed from community input. In that time, the organization has been successful in creating new events and projects that have reinvigorated the downtown area and brought the community together.  

To further these early efforts, Missouri Main Street Connection and Campbell Main Street partnered together to elevate the already outstanding work being completed by the people in this community. As part of the Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI) grant through USDA, Campbell, MO received branding services. This process allowed the community to come together through input sessions on what is important for the future of downtown and the community and turn those elements into a community and downtown brand.

Ben Muldrow of Arnett Muldrow & Associates brought his expertise to:

  • Present on the Promotion point of Main Street

  • Solicit input, needs, and wants of the community to provide a comprehensive and cohesive branding service that brought a cohesive identity to the community



  • Recommend a new brand scheme for multiple entities, including Main Street Campbell, the Peach Fair Festival, and the City of Campbell.


This service helped to bring targeted short-term and long-term recommendations for the downtown and community. Campbell Main Street received a new brand scheme that can be implemented to promote Campbell as a place to live, work, and visit. The Main Street Board will now review the brand scheme they received and vote to adopt it. Look out for Campbell Main Street’s new branding soon. Through this service, this passionate community of just 1,500 now has the direction and resources to continue to grow and build on the expanding economic ecosystem being cultivated in downtown.

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Ben White »

Historic preservation is at the heart of the Main Street movement. It’s what sets Main Street apart from other economic development initiatives in communities. Despite being the heart of the movement, what does historic preservation mean and how do Main Street organizations identify, advocate, and educate community members about the historic assets that make their community unique?

The National Park Service says, “Through historic preservation, we look at history in different ways, ask different questions of the past, and learn new things about our history and ourselves. Historic preservation is an important way for us to transmit our understanding of the past to future generations. Historic preservation helps tell our stories which involve celebrating events, people, places, and ideas that we are proud of.” But how do we bring this mentality to the local level and advocate and educate the community on local assets? The first question is, “What are your local assets?”

Every historic downtown is unique by nature. The buildings, people, and businesses are all unique and have a different story to tell that has shaped what downtown is today and will be in the future. First, there is a history behind why your community was made and many times understanding your downtown, the original development in a community, helps to shape that story and narrative. This is where Main Street organizations can start to showcase the historic assets in their downtown; look back at how the downtown was developed and tell those stories to the community. This fosters an appreciation of those historic assets and educates the community on why your downtown’s story is unique starting at its conception.

There are also other stories to tell that may not have to do with that original development. Did you know that what we consider history is not just 100+ years old; history is made every day. The invention of pre-sliced and packaged sliced bread in Chillicothe in 1928 created a new historic asset that added to the fabric of the community.



Chillicothe is a great example of a big event happening, but not every story or event has to be so dramatic in nature. There are many unidentified assets that are waiting to be identified. After identifying your historic assets, Main Street organizations can craft their downtown’s story to be told through educational materials to the community, such as Route 66 coming through downtown, a building that has housed or is currently housing a significant business, or an historic courthouse; these are all historic assets that make a downtown unique.



For instance, Carthage celebrates its unique history using art, by creating a mural that celebrates the important artists and people from the community.


In Laclede’s Landing in St. Louis, they celebrate the story of Ester, an emancipated slave and one of--if not the--first black, female landowner in St Louis, with the renaming and activation of an alley.


Main Street organizations, while primarily an economic development organization, have the responsibility to identify and share those unique historic assets in their downtown. Historic preservation is layered into how Main Street organizations can distinguish themselves as being different from other economic development entities. In addition, heritage travelers, who, according to Global Urban Development, spend 2.5 times more money in a community, are looking for historic assets that set your downtown apart. Every downtown is different; that story needs to be identified and told to the community and to potential visitors.  

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