In recognition of Small Business Saturday, we turned our blog over Main Street Waterbury Executive Director Carl Rosa to tell us what his organization does to help local business reminds us that even in time of a crisis or during coronavirus, we turn to our communities to weather the storm. We lift up our neighbors and lean on each other to keep ourselves mentally and emotionally strong. Moreover, the assistance we provide now will determine what our main streets look like when this virus passes.
Small businesses fuel our communities, our downtowns, and business districts with jobs, products, and services, and as important spots for social engagement. Seemingly, small steps can make a big impact and help businesses continue to be a part of our communities in the months and years to come. Here are some suggestions: Buy gift cards. Shop online or over the phone. Maintain your subscriptions to newspapers or magazines or beauty products. Get social and support a business by sharing a company’s Facebook or Instagram post.
I often get asked. What is Main Street Waterbury? What exactly do you do? The canned answer is,” Main Street Waterbury (MSW) is a downtown management and revitalization program in the context of historic preservation. By improving the physical appearance of downtown Waterbury, promoting the architecture and cultural assets, organizing volunteer initiatives, sponsoring events and fostering public/private partnerships, Main Street Waterbury continues to economically rejuvenate Waterbury’s downtown district without sacrificing its character or heritage.”
Sounds good, right? Well, let me tell you, as impressive as that sounds, the reality is even better.
For those unfamiliar with the Main Street process, it is based on the four points of Design, Promotion, Economic Vitality and Organization. Each point addresses a different facet of downtown revitalization. We are part of a national movement with Main Street America, as we join with 2000 cities and towns across the U.S that use the Main Street process to revitalize their downtowns. In Connecticut, we join the Connecticut Main Street Center and their efforts to coordinate member downtowns in the Nutmeg State always preaching the Main Street way.
How does it work on the ground level in downtown Waterbury?
We are a not–for-profit organization and over the past 16 years, MSW has assigned working volunteer committees to each of the programs’ four points. For example, our Design Committee has focused on projects involving clean, safe and friendly strategies that address the physical appearance of downtown such as the Sign and Awning program, The Clean Team, the Holiday Window Decorating Competition, and the Adopt-A-Planter program. The Promotion Committee has organized events and promoted downtown businesses and related cultural attractions like our downtown Restaurant Guide and Pole Banner Sponsorship program. Categorically, the renown Brass City Brew and Que fest falls under the Promotion Committee along with other events MSW produces. Our Organization committee has recruited volunteers to our cause, worked on our funding strategies, spread the word about MSW via websites, social media, and newsletters, and provided important information and workshops to downtown businesses such as the Downtown Business Watch program. The Economic Vitality Committee has marketed the downtown assets and available spaces to prospective tenants and developers as well as provided much-needed support, guidance, and other business improvement strategies such as maintaining a comprehensive inventory of all downtown space that is for sale or lease.
Our four committees and the four-point approach works in concert with each other to achieve a coordinated effort to revitalization.
The program is pretty straight forward when you think about it. There’s no mystery to the approach. It’s a gradual and comprehensive strategy that leads to tangible results.
But what happens when a pandemic hits. All across America, small downtown mom and pop retail shops and family-owned restaurants have taken a huge hit. Many may not survive. Foot traffic is drastically reduced, many downtown employees are working from home, and the Governor’s executive orders severely restrict inside people capacity. The hurt, the burden, the worry is real.
Covid-19 was not in anyone’s playbook. But in times of crisis, this is exactly when a Main Street program is needed. The ability for MSW to be nimble and pivot to address the crisis is important.
Back in the early spring, one of the first things we did back when we were all hunkered down was to assess and compile an inventory of what businesses were allowed to stay open and who had to temporarily close. We provided the downtown businesses with important information regarding the CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program and in some cases connecting them with representatives to assist in their applications. We provided them with other critical information such as tenant/landlord relations in times of crisis. We paid wellness visits to the businesses distributing masks, and also important Covid related safety signage in both English and Spanish to be displayed for their customers and employees.
One very effective and ongoing program we created is the “Heart of Waterbury, An Economic Lifeline” video mini-series. While many were busy publicizing lists of businesses that were opened, we felt that it was imperative to put a human face behind the business name and allow our downtown merchants a chance to submit videos to us telling their story, what they provide, and how the pandemic is affecting them. MSW, in turn, produced the video and distributes it through our social media platforms where it is shared beyond that.
Behind every business is an owner with a family to support and mouths to feed. Over the years these businesses have supported our community in so many ways. Yet now, they need our support. The Heart of Waterbury lets the world know who they are and how we can help! Make sure you follow Main Street Waterbury on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram where you can view the videos already produced. This program, along with the other support I mentioned are just some of the ways that MSW is working to address the pandemic. Someday, downtown will come alive again and when it does, Main Street Waterbury hopes to be there to celebrate with us all.