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Picture the moment you step out of the cutest downtown boutique store in a revitalized center of town. You are wearing sunglasses, staring at a neo-classical, historically ornate courthouse as a soft, warm breeze wafts the scent of coffee and scones in your direction. You look left, and then right, before carefully crossing the brick road of the path before you. History abounds all-around, yet you seem surrounded by modern amenities and shopping experiences.
This is what it’s like on a downtown street or square in Arkansas. For this experience where rich history meets modern amenities, you can thank the Main Street Arkansas and Historic Preservation Program.
Main Street Arkansas uses the Four-Point Approach developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The first five Arkansas cities joined the register in 1985, only one year after establishing the program. Volunteers and community leaders across the state devote hours to preserving their spaces and creating vibrant communities.
These Main Street leaders recognize “that today’s economic development and tourism growth is not about looking at what you don’t have but celebrating what you do have. Successful economic development is not about one big thing in a town. But instead, about multiple small things working synergistically to form a plan that makes sense locally.” The Main Street Arkansas designation is a distinctive honor and sought-after recognition for Arkansas communities.
With a new designation in 2020, Camden began the year with solid momentum and didn’t let the COVID-19 pandemic stop them. They were able to award small business grants totaling $8,700. With a focus on business, creating new public gathering spaces and preserving historical buildings, they gained significant support and have carried that forward. New awnings were installed, pet-friendly infrastructure was developed, murals were added and restored, and adjacent church buildings prioritized beautification.
Photo courtesy of Arkansas Parks & Tourism.
Siloam Springs was part of the first five Main Street Districts designated in Arkansas and has remained “committed to the economic development of the Main Street area while improving the historical character of downtown.” Over time, more than $3.7 million was invested in networked businesses improving facades, building rehabilitation, public area improvements and public art installments, including a downtown mural by elementary school student artists.
SoMa (Southside Main Street) District in Little Rock is a thriving example of a food community and historical preservation district combining efforts to preserve tradition and stories in Arkansas’ Capitol City. With a history dating back to dirt roads and horse-drawn carriages, sprawling neighborhoods from Central High School and the governor’s mansion to abandonment with the arrival of new highways, Southside Main Street has withstood difficult days to arrive at a time where family-friendly, walkable streets meet the famed Community Bakery, Green Corner Store, The Root Café, Loblolly Creamery and Esse Purse Museum, the only museum of its kind anywhere in the country.
Photo courtesy of Al Fowler.
Main Street Searcy is an example district for the state, having played a considerable role in attracting the “Small Business Revolution” television series. The nonprofit organization also helped build engagement with the local college campus, and has multiple established events like the Farmer’s Market, Trick-or-Treat on the Square, Get Down Downtown and Holiday of Lights. Additionally, Main Street Searcy works with downtown businesses to improve building deterioration, increase access to public facilities, and preserve historic sites.
Built around the historically designated commercial district still bearing the original owners’ names, Dumas is a town rich with farming history like many southern Arkansas towns. Dumas also received the designation in 2016 as a Certified Local Government Community in a partnership between the National Parks Service and the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. This distinction among 20 other Arkansas communities provides additional funding to preserve historic properties locally. In addition to supporting partnerships between members in the downtown network, Main Street Dumas manages the Dumas Area Arts Center, Farmer’s Market, and the Billy Free Memorial Park.
Photo courtesy of Arkansas Parks & Tourism.
With a home in the historical 1937 Greyhound bus station, this Main Street community shares history with John Grisham and the farming community of Mississippi County. The Blytheville Coffee Company is among its members with a designation on the Arkansas Coffee Trail. In addition, Blytheville’s Main Street hosts an annual chili cook-off each fall, Second Saturday Summerfest, and is a partner in the Lights of the Delta Christmas display.
Entrepreneurs have been the backbone of the American economy for 200 years…Main Street seeks to create an environment where it’s easier for these businesses to get off the ground, so they are more likely to succeed.
-Patrice Frey, President, and CEO of National Main Street Center, Inc.
Main Street Arkansas’s accomplishments through the COVID-19 pandemic:
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