It’s an exciting time to live in Gloucester. This month, Gloucester Village Main Street was one of three Virginia communities awarded with a $100,000 grant from the state to support small business development. The funding was a part of the Governor’s strategic vision for economic development and centers around an entrepreneur contest in each of the chosen communities called the Virginia Community Business Launch. The contest will begin in mid-January and boasts substantial prize packages for the top three winners to include startup capital, a marketing package, free business consultation, and abatement for rent and utilities. It will be a terrific asset to the great things already happening in the Gloucester Village Main Street community.
We recently had the chance to catch up with Jenny Crittenden, executive director of the Gloucester Main Street Preservation Trust and Ashley Gilmartin, executive director of the Gloucester Main Street Association to learn more about their organizations and what’s happening in Gloucester. Though representing separate organizations, Crittenden and Gilmartin work together for the benefit of the Main Street business community.
Chesapeake Bank: What is the history and purpose of the Main Street Preservation Trust and Gloucester Main Street Association?
Jenny Crittenden: It all started with the incredible vision and generosity of the late Edwin Joseph and his wife, Adrianne Ryder-Cook Joseph. The Joseph’s, when looking at the old Gloucester Exchange Shopping Center where the vacated property of the Ames store was located, saw an opportunity for Gloucester while others most likely saw a vacated run-down shopping center. Mr. Joseph’s plan was to purchase the shopping center, rehabilitate the property, providing suitable space for a new public library for Gloucester and creating a vehicle that would produce income to be used to enhance and improve Gloucester Main Street. He and his wife purchased the center in January 2003 and proceeded with the initial renovation and thus, Main Street Center was born.
Currently, Main Street Center is a thriving center of business housing the Gloucester County Public Library, United States Post Office, Gloucester County Health department, restaurants, offices, physicians and retail businesses. The Main Street Preservation Trust office and event center is also located on the property.
As you can see, the Joseph’s provided two gifts to Gloucester – the first being the vision and funding to bring Main Street Center to life and the second, the gift of placing Main Street Center in a Trust that specifically states the profits from Main Street Center are to only benefit Gloucester Main Street through attracting new and additional business to Main Street, enhancing the economic and business environment, preserving historical landmarks in the Court House area, and promoting civic and cultural activities. Their un-paralleled gifts rate as the greatest acts of philanthropy ever bestowed upon Gloucester County.
Ashley Gilmartin: The Gloucester Main Street Association is a group of Main Street business owners, residents, commercial and residential property owners and other individuals who have joined together to form a nonprofit organization with its goal being to promote Historic Gloucester Main Street, plan and implement events and attract additional businesses and residents. We want to make Gloucester Main Street beautiful, interesting and a great place to visit, live, invest and work.
Chesapeake Bank: What goals are the Trust and Association currently working on?
Jenny Crittenden: The Main Street Preservation Trust is currently working on these projects and initiatives:
- We offer annual grants for improvements of facades and interiors for buildings located in the target area of Main Street.
- We offer merchandising grants for businesses to access a professional for store design and merchandising.
- We offer workshops, trainings and seminars as well as business one-on-one consultations with small business specialists.
- We are in the early design process of a corridor enhancement project to beautify the Main Street corridor from the Walmart light (Route 17 & Main Street) to Newington Baptist Church (northern end of Main Street & 17).
- We print more than 20,000 shop & dine brochures to be placed in the visitors centers across the state of Virginia.
- We financially support the newly formed Gloucester Revolving Loan Fund.
- We partner with Gloucester County Tourism on tourism efforts and marketing.
- We provide financial support to the Gloucester Main Street Association.
- We partner with Gloucester County on future planning and business growth strategies.
- We partner with the Gloucester County EDA on business growth strategies and the promotion of Gloucester as a business destination.
Our goal is to foster an environment where entrepreneurs can grow. We strive to create a business ecosystem of support, mentorship and education.
- Downtown marketing including newsletters, blogging, social media, etc.
- Hold downtown events and promotions throughout the year
- Developing cooperative advertising opportunities for Main Street businesses
Chesapeake Bank: What do you think the future is of Gloucester Main Street and Main Street USA in general?
Jenny Crittenden: The future of the Main Street in Gloucester is very bright. Unlike anywhere else in the nation, Gloucester Main Street businesses have the support of the Main Street Preservation Trust that has a perpetual funding stream due to the incredible generosity of Edwin & Adrianne Joseph in the form of developing Main Street Center and then gifting it into a trust to ensure that the Main Street businesses would have the opportunity to not only survive, but also grow and thrive. Most small communities, like Gloucester, are built on the backs of small business. It’s our small business owners who volunteer. It’s our small business owners who donate to local charities. It’s our small business owners who bring a personality to the street, an energy that only an entrepreneur can bring. They are a fiber in our community closely woven to all of us. Supporting them in their efforts means you are supporting your neighbor and what better way to spend your money than with friends?
Main Streets in general are seeing a rebirth with increased investment of funds being used to renovate and repurpose historic buildings, breathing life back into our cities and towns. People are migrating back to a place where they can enjoy a walkable environment for shopping and dining, be a part of close knit community, and mesh with different ages and backgrounds. Where the new town center style mixed use developments are becoming popular, the Main Street communities are authentic, not copied. We can offer a sense of place that can’t be imitated because our “place”, in some communities, has developed over generations. It’s important for our human character to feel a part of something, some place and Main Streets can offer this like no other. Nationally, even the big box retailers are developing concepts that scale down the size of their models, recognizing that people are migrating back to a downtown style of living and wish for quick convenience and a human connection that a smaller store provides. The future of the Gloucester Village Main Street…definitely bright.