Feeling the Pain

Area Main Street Programs work to help businesses cope

Coronavirus forces business owners to
adapt to changes

(July 2020) – Many downtown areas are kept vibrant by the efforts of local Main Street Programs. Since economic development is essential to these areas, local programs have been challenged by restrictions put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are hoping for brighter days ahead.
Austin Sims, executive director of the Madison Main Street Program, said she thinks things will begin to look better in July. Music in the Park will be held for the first time this year on July 10. Food trucks will be available beginning at 5 p.m., and “we hope to work with other downtown businesses to encourage them to offer carryout,” she said.
Music in the Park is an annual series of concerts in which local and regional bands perform in downtown Madison at the Broadway Fountain. The July event is sponsored by Madison Ribberfest BBQ & Blues. The headlining act, local favorite The Doctors Band, will take the stage at 7 p.m. with Charlie & Margo opening at 6 p.m. Attendees are encouraged to bring lawn chairs to this free family friendly concert.
“After July 4, Indiana is in the clear to have live entertainment,” she said. Sims said she feels the Main Street program can now safely hold this event and similar events that draw large crowds.
“We are working on trying to make sure people know where local restrooms are, local resources for hand sanitizer, blocking off more space for them to spread out and knowing that masks are welcome.”
Even though there is concern that the coronavirus will spread again in the fall, “we are still planning for Aug. 14 and Sept. 11,” she said. The August Music in the Park will be sponsored by German American Bank, and the supporting sponsor is Psi Lota Xi, Zeta XI Chapter. Amy Noel will open for The Rumors. The September Music in the Park will be sponsored by the Tony Greco Memorial Fund for the Arts. Roman Toast will open for The Remedies.
The Madison Main Street Program’s role is to encourage economic development, redevelopment and improvement of downtown areas of Indiana cities and towns. It is administered by the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs and founded on community economic development principles that emphasize preservation and development of traditional downtown resources.
Like many communities, Madison has had to struggle with finding ways to keep events going and promoting local businesses. The first Fourth Friday Downtown of 2020 is always a well-attended event and was actually held virtually in April and “was a success,” according to Sims.
“This was a virtual event where participating businesses went live on Facebook or posted a pre-recorded video at a designated time slot. These videos were for business owners to show their products, services, what they had been doing during that time away, etc. and explained how people could contact them and shop with them during that time.”
The Fourth Friday event usually features stores with extended hours, live music, restaurants offering dinner, family activities and free trolley rides from 5-9 p.m. The April event “was so well received that we are trying to continue it during December-March of each year when we normally would not have Fourth Friday,” Sims said.

Approximately 23 businesses and artists participated. “This was the best way for us to support what was best for each business and direct our audiences to them.”
For the month of May, businesses were just beginning to open again. Friday, June 26, was the first Fourth Friday event in which the public was able to attend while adhering to COVID-19 restrictions. “We are still requesting social distancing if possible until July 3,” she said.
The June event featured a “Healthy Main Street” theme, said Sims. “We wanted to show that we are able to be back open. There will be themes for the remaining events.”
June’s event included a scavenger hunt and limited seating on the trolley, so people could social distance. There were also pop-up booths for participating businesses. “We’re just trying to encourage and provide an event to promote what downtown businesses already have,” Sims said. The July Fourth Friday is scheduled for July 24. A second July event that has the green light is the Slice of Summer Sale on July 23-25.
“Main Street has four committees that organize these events,” Sims said. She said she feels that once Main Street is operating as normal, a lot of visitors will “come here to get away and shop.”
During the pandemic, “people have spent more locally. So far they haven’t traveled and haven’t wanted to travel, which has helped businesses.”
She said, “We were lucky and only had our April and May Fourth Friday events and June Music in the Park affected by the pandemic and the ‘Back on Track’ guidelines. We, as a program, are not successful unless our downtown businesses are, so any way we can organize an event, a program and workshops to help retain our downtown businesses, we are trying to do.”
Sims said most of her promotions of local businesses during the pandemic were handled through social media. A Madison Business Resiliency Fund was created to help fundraise for two months to assist 50 businesses May through June.
Sims said this re-imbursement grant “supported businesses with rent and mortgage during those two months, and we hope to adapt it in the future to assist businesses as needed. In May we awarded $10,900 in rent and mortgage and $8,750 in June.”
The Kentucky Main Street Program works in much the same way as in Indiana. The goal of this program is to encourage downtown revitalization and economic development within the context of historic preservation.
Sam Burgess, director of the Carrollton Main Street Program, said of the COVID-19 impact to Main Street, “Nineteen of our businesses were temporarily closed with a temporary loss of 47 jobs. As of the end of May, all but seven of the businesses had re-opened.”
On a happier note, “We have two businesses new to the downtown open June 1, and of the seven that remained closed at the end of May, all but one has re-opened,” he said. “Many of our businesses have re-thought their business model and are relying more heavily on social media.”
Burgess has been using this same outlet to promote local business in Carrollton, “particularly Facebook. We also do limited print ads in our weekly local paper.”
Due to COVID-19, the Carrollton Main Street Program’s First Friday on the Square for June and July have been canceled and, “we will make decisions about August and September at a later date. The annual Ohio River Sweep event, which we coordinate, will be rescheduled for a later date to be determined,” Burgess said.
Even though First Friday’s don’t draw a large crowd, the event does draw “a regular crowd who seem to greatly enjoy the music and the fellowship.” Burgess said that as of now, all July events for both Main Street and the city have been either canceled or postponed, including the city’s Fourth of July fireworks, which have been rescheduled for Labor Day weekend.
Sandie Fulks, La Grange Ky., Main Street Director, said “We haven’t really had to cancel many of our events, just move them to later in the fall since attendance numbers will increase by then. I’m in the middle of rescheduling Trackside Tunes now.” This outdoor concert event usually begins in May and runs through September.
“We want to move forward” with such events. As of June 29, Kentucky can have gatherings of 50 or less, but a concert is not considered an “attraction.” Thus, she has to wait until Phase 4 of the governor’s re-opening plan to see when such events can be held.
One program the La Grange Ky., Main Street Program is participating in beginning July 1 and running through Sept. 12 is Hometown Tourist Staycation, a concept developed by Oldham County Tourism to promote Oldham County attractions, restaurants, accommodations and retail shops.
Participants visit stores with a bingo card passport for the store owner to initial, take a selfie at the location and upload it to Facebook. Once all blocks on the card are initialed, it is sent to the Tourism Office to receive a Hometown Tourism T-shirt or hat. Only those with a passport will be offered a “freebie” at the stores.
Kim Buckler Hydes, executive director of Oldham Ky., Tourism & Conventions, said, “We know these are tough times for everyone, but we are getting creative to get people out and about and we are promoting our attractions.”
Fulks said, “There are a number of Main Street businesses and restaurants who are participating. It will be a great program for people who are staying close to home. It’s a great concept. People will discover how much they know, or don’t know, about their hometown.”
She said she has been promoting such events mostly through social media during the COVID-19 shutdown because people are home more and relying on social media for news and updates.
She said it has been difficult for Main Street businesses during this time and many “may still have to struggle to make it up. But owners are showing a lot of resilience; they are changing their marketing and business models. If the last few Saturday’s are any indication, they are picking up momentum quickly.”

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