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New Initiatives in Play to Build Economic Success in Main Street Communities

Jan 11th, 2022



by Trisha Black, Marketing and Communications Manager, Main Street Alabama


Property owners discussing plans for renovated propertiesThe economic success of downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts is essential in the over-all health of communities across the United States. Serving as the city center, those districts often house a variety of uses including municipal offices, religious institutions, retail, restaurants, professional firms, personal services, and residential living. Through new initiatives, Main Street Alabama is working in our designated communities to find the best uses of available spaces, and understanding what the market will support particularly as we move past the pandemic and more entrepreneurs are ready to jump start their businesses.


Through a partnership with Opportunity Alabama, and the Business Council of Alabama, funded through an Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant, Main Street Alabama is providing services to our Designated communities in one of the following areas;  small scale production, redevelopment planning, and incremental development during the next 28 months. 


“Working in concert with OPAL and BCA has been a wonderful experience. We are learning from one another and are utilizing the best of each our organizations to move businesses in Alabama forward. We are all stronger for our partnership and are looking forward to working together on current and future projects,” said Mary Helmer Wirth, President and State Coordinator, Main Street Alabama.


By the end of 2021, services will have been rendered in Montevallo, Woodlawn, Opelika and Florence.


Montevallo and Woodlawn received a small scale production service in October 2021, facilitated by Matt Wagner, Chief Program Officer of the National Main Street Center. As small production finds it home in downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts, it is time communities start reviewing their zoning to allow small scale manufacturing and begin carving out space for those makers, often already working out of their home. Those producers can include everything from bakers, wig makers, brewers, quilters, metal artists and more.


During these visits, Matt met with Main Street staff, volunteers, and city officials to discuss avenues to discover regional talent and then toured available spaces to determine what would make a good fit. Matt also had the opportunity to meet with local and regional producers. Producers, that have already found success working out of a space, discussed the challenges they faced and what support was missing in the process. Producers working out of their home and vending their items at Farmers Markets and other events, discussed what is keeping them from taking the leap into a brick and mortar. Matt’s final report will provide a framework for those Main Street programs to help build an ecosystem to fill in those missing pieces as they move forward in the cultivation of small-scale producers in their districts.


The Redevelopment Plan service has been provided to Opelika and Florence thus far. Joe Borgstrom, Principal, Place + Main Advisors, led the team during a three-day exercise that included visiting with property owners with vacancies, learning more about local development initiatives and future growth from city officials and the county economic developers. The community was also invited on a walking tour and asked to expressed their interest of what they’d like to see in those vacant spaces. At the wrap up meeting at the end of the visit, Joe reviews the market trends including the retail pull and leakage from the district. The final report will include pro formas for those property owners that expressed an interest during the visit and direction for redevelopment in the district moving forward.


Incremental Development is meant to teach individuals how to become their own developers and tackle small scale development projects that can collectively make a significant impact in their community. In December, Main Street Alabama hosted a free webinar with Bernice Radle, owner of Buffalove Development and Little Wheel Restoration Company, that was a good tee up of what can be expected when this service rolls out in 2022. A more intensive workshop is planned for the Spring of 2022.


For all those services mentioned above, our partner, Opportunity Alabama will provide information on capital stacks and how to leverage funding for the projects identified through the process.


Another initiative in play is our Small Box Shops. Funded by a matching USDA grant, two storage containers outfitted for retail were placed in Heflin and Wetumpka in 2019. The roughly 100 square foot space is meant to serve as a space for entrepreneurs to test the market before investing in a building.


In Heflin (pop. 3,480), Southern Charms, a home décor boutique, made its debut in the Small Box Shop on Black Friday 2020. A group of women looking to try their hand at retail approached the Main Street program about utilizing the Small Box Shop. The Small Box Shop gave the women an opportunity to test out their product and by the end of the Christmas season, they had outgrown the space.  They quickly decided to find a permanent space and invested in a brick and mortar in the district. Their business continues to grow.


“The Small Box Shop was a true blessing to us. It gave us an opportunity to explore our inventory and make changes along the way to accommodate the wants of our customers without investing too much," said Sandy Sanders, Southern Charms co-owner. "In doing so, our business had grown to a point where we were ready to make a storefront purchase that will fulfill one of our lifelong dreams."


Just two hours south in Wetumpka, you will find a city that is not just surviving but thriving. As Southern Living put it, "it is Wetumpka’s year to shine," and Main Street Wetumpka’s Small Box Shop is at the helm. The Tourist Trap, which opened in April 2021, is serving the needs of the increasing number of tourists visiting the city after the launch of the HGTV series that featured Wetumpka.


The success of the Small Box Shops led to another funding round from USDA for units to be placed in Monroeville (pop. 5,878) and Marion (pop. 3,275) before the end of 2021. In preparation of the container placement in Monroeville, the Main Street program along with the local SBDC and Main Street Alabama, launched BUOY, Business Understanding & Ownership for Youth ages 15 to 25, to cultivate young entrepreneurs that can transition into the Small Box Shop. Before doing so, entrepreneurs went through an application process that asked for their business idea and references. The group then must complete courses covering topics from legal considerations, accounting best practices, human resources, financing, and marketing.


Providing these resources gives these future business owners a realistic understanding of what it will take to be successful in Monroeville’s market.


The last initiative to mention is the Shop Local Support Small license plate program. After receiving an extension, Main Street Alabama now has through January 31, 2022 to secure enough pre-commitments for the car tag to go into production. Funds raised from the pre-commitments will be used for $500 grants for qualifying small businesses in Alabama. To learn more about the car tag initiative, visit our website,


Main Street Alabama is a private non-profit and state coordinating program of Main Street America.  The National Main Street Four Point Approach™ is an over 40 year model that focuses work in four areas: organization, design, promotion and economic vitality with strategies unique to the community and based on market-based outcome. 


Designated communities include Alexander City, Anniston, Athens, Atmore, Birmingham, Calera, Columbiana, Decatur, Dothan, Elba, Enterprise, Eufaula, Florence, Foley, Fort Payne, Gadsden, Headland, Heflin, Historic 4th Avenue Business District in Birmingham, Marion, Monroeville, Montevallo, Jasper, Opelika, Oxford, Scottsboro, South Huntsville, West Huntsville and Wetumpka.  Each Designated community listed above reports their success by tracking their reinvestment statistics.  Main Street Alabama’s Designated communities have reported 877 net new businesses, 2,863 net new jobs, $571,321,812 in private investment, $94,667,497 in public improvements, and 128,567 volunteer hours in their districts collectively since June of 2014.


Main Street Alabama New City Application workshops are held in January each year.  Communities interested in learning more about the program are encouraged to join the Main Street Alabama Network. More information can be found at

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