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Main Street Clinton a model for successful downtown economic programs

Adam Rohnke, a vendor at Fresh at Five farmers market.

The new kid on the Main Street block has been getting with the program in a big way. Although only in existence six years, Main Street Clinton has won awards all five years it has been eligible.

This year Clinton won top awards Main Street Merchant of the Year, an award that recognizes excellence in retail for a merchant who has been a “mover and a shaker” in downtown revitalization, and exemplifies the best in merchandising, inventory, display, hours, quality, convenience and service. The winner was Toni Wall, owner of Pentimento Books.

Clinton also was received the Best Downtown Parade award, which acknowledges a downtown organization that has created a quality parade that celebrates community spirit and playing downtown for all ages. The Clinton parade that won is the Caterpillar Parade.

Clinton Mayor Rosemary Aultman received a Special Service Award that recognizes an elected or public official who has contributed leadership and support for downtown, and who best represents commitment to the goal of revitalization. And Main Street Clinton Manager Tara Lytal won Excellence in Main Street, an award that is presented annually to Main Street managers who have shown excellent service. The award comes from nominations from the District Directors of Mississippi Main Street Association (MMSA).

Main Street president George Ewing (right) awarding the Making a Difference on Main Street Award to N’Awlins Grill owner Billy Causey.

“Our program has been able to yield success in a relatively short period of time,” Lytal said. “We are the first in the state to create a business development grant to help businesses with costs associated with starting a business or with business expansions. This grant, along with our façade grant, is an important recruitment tool. We awarded Cups Espresso Café a façade grant in 2008 to help incentivize them to locate in our Olde Towne District.”

Lytal said progress including launching new businesses like Cups and Bon Chic are particularly significant considering it has been accomplished since the downturn in the economy that started in 2007.

What draws people to the city of Clinton’s downtown?

“Our events have been spot on in successfully attracting people to our districts,” Lytal said. “We have also been successful in branding Main Street districts with our-eye catching logos that bring attention to our districts, and help establish our downtown as the heart of our community. We continue to add aesthetic elements to our districts to improve the look of our community making it more appealing to our visitors and residents.”

If you look at the Clinton Main Street website, you will find a lot of volunteers listed. Lytal said that is the secret to their success.

“Volunteers are the heart of our program,” Lytal said. “Main Street Clinton is run by a volunteer working board. I emphasize working because so many non-profit boards are not. Ours is definitely a ‘feet on the ground’ type of organization where board members and committee members set organizational goals and spend countless hours making sure that we achieve them. Our volunteers have energy, creative ideas and a desire to see our community grow and thrive. The Mississippi College (MC) students add their youthful vigor, and our committed citizens support our events and invest in our shops.”

Far too many Main Street in small towns look almost like ghost towns with a large number of vacant buildings, many in need of repair. But Clinton’s Olde Towne is currently 80 percent occupied, and Lytal said there are strong possibilities for three of the vacancies. If those come to fruition, the Olde Towne area would be 90 percent occupied.

“Our occupancy level in the Boulevard District is higher with only about 5 percent of our properties vacant,” Lytal said. “Both of Clinton’s Main Street districts are perfectly positioned for success. They are adjacent to Mississippi College, which is experiencing tremendous growth. There are endless opportunities for businesses that will cater to the needs of both our students and citizens. By and large, Clinton is an under-served community with citizens forced to leave the city limits to purchase clothing, shoes, makeup, etc. While many see challenges, I see opportunities.”

Main Street Clinton continues to use social media for marketing.

“Of course, we are on Facebook and Twitter and we started a Pinterest page last fall,” Lytal said. “We used Twitter at our MC welcome event, Back to the Bricks (a partnership between Main Street Clinton, The Clinton Chamber of Commerce, The City of Clinton and MC) to engage the students when they registered. To be eligible for door prizes the students had to ‘tweet’ something about the event and include #mcbacktothebricks. It was our first time to use social media in this way, and it was a great success.”

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