Marietta Main Street to hold anniversary party

Photo by Erin E. O’Neill Cristie Thomas, executive director of Marietta Main Street, stands next to a mural welcoming visitors to downtown. The murals, created by Sara Rosenstock at Just A Jar and installed by Signality, are part of a downtown beautification project. This one at Top Drawer Furniture and Design Studio on Front and Butler streets will be completed in July.

MARIETTA — “Main Street was founded on passion.”

That is the phrase emblazoned on the website for Marietta Main Street, a powerhouse organization whose mission over the past five years has been to revitalize and celebrate downtown Marietta. A party is planned on April 18 to celebrate, however Marietta Main Street became official five years ago this July, receiving its designation from Heritage Ohio in 2013.

What sprang from ReSTORE Marietta, founded in 2006 by downtown business owners and community-minded volunteers, has become the town’s No. 1 cheerleader as far as promoting business, history and activities. Prior to ReSTORE, the Marietta Area Merchants Association and Friends of Front Street were merchant and community-driven organizations that promoted the idea of shopping small and shopping locally. Now Marietta Main Street has the backing of Heritage Ohio, the state body that manages the Ohio Main Street program.

Marietta is one of 24 Main Street communities in the state of Ohio.

The funding for the local organization comes primarily from events and programs, grants and partnerships with merchants and nonprofits. In 2017, revenue for Marietta Main Street was $106,692.

Times file photo Peggy Douglas, an employee of Huck’s Greenhouse, waters some of the 300 purple petunia baskets which are typically hung in downtown Marietta thanks to donations from the community. It’s a part of the Downtown Beautification program through Marietta Main Street.

“The designation included a hefty application process, community visits, the production of work plans, budgets and proof of programming, a strategic plan and presentation of mission and vision, and a resolution passed by the City of Marietta for the community to be known as a Main Street Community,” according to Cristie Thomas, executive director.

The resolution was passed on April 4, 2013 and the city earned its Main Street status that July. Annually, the organization needs to maintain its accreditation as a Main Street Community by producing reports and sharing data — nearly 100 points worth of review — with Heritage Ohio.

“We were founding members of ReSTORE and now we are proud members and participants in Marietta Main Street,” said Sylvi Caporale, owner with husband Jim of American Flags & Poles for nearly 22 years. “The recognition around the state is always strong and Marietta Main Street is a great trendsetter.”

Caporale said that the triad of the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce, Marietta Main Street and the Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau is a partnership that makes each one successful.

“It’s really very important that we have all three working together; (success) also takes an active board and major energy toward volunteerism. The next focus is getting that community involvement,” she said.

Benefits of being designated a Main Street community include executive director orientation, admittance to the Heritage Ohio annual conference, four director roundtable meetings a year, an annual evaluation, unlimited email and phone consultations, tax credit assistance, program marketing, a subscription to Retail Minded magazine, revitalization trainings and more.

“The Ohio Main Street Community is very tight and we directors are communicating all the time about best practices, current issues, event ideas, nonprofit governance, etc.,” Thomas said. “In fact, in the next few months I will be traveling to two different communities in Ohio to lead board trainings for Main Street organizations thanks to Heritage Ohio.”

Denyse Fordham was a transplant to Marietta in 1976 and the welcome feeling she received from the downtown merchants is what got her involved in Marietta Main Street as a community volunteer and what keeps her here.

“I’m not from here, I don’t have any family here but I’m a real supporter of Marietta and of Marietta Main Street. Their meetings are so positive, their people are so positive. And there’s just that personal touch from the merchants,” she said.

Over the five years, Main Street has seen Mallory Greenham, Jean Farmer and Katy Sulfridge at the helm. Prior to taking over as current executive director, Thomas worked in Marietta College’s Office of Civic Engagement, housed in the McDonough Leadership Center. There, Thomas oversaw leadership development programs, service-learning programs and volunteer-based programs all aimed at connecting students with the local community. She is the organization’s longest running executive director.

“The board believes that Marietta Main Street is stronger now than it’s ever been and a lot of that is because of Cristie’s leadership,” said Sarah Arnold, president of the Main Street board of directors.

Just this year Marietta Main Street was named a Top 8 Small Town by the Small Business Revolution, a Best Hometown for 2017-2018 by Ohio Magazine and Thomas was named Main Street Manager of the Year by Heritage Ohio, among other things.

Some of the initiatives include the downtown farmers market, the mural gallery program on buildings in the downtown district — an investment of $12,000 over the past two years — the launch and maintenance of the First Fridays program, which pairs merchants with artists or nonprofits or other themes and maintenance of the downtown flower baskets.

“What I’m most proud of is the momentum,” said Thomas. “I’m proud that members of my board and of our committees can see the fruits of their labor, like art murals or downtown flowers or people filling the streets on a First Friday. I’m proud that we have new businesses opening up downtown that are filling gaps in our market.”

Arnold said that now that the foundation has been built for Marietta Main Street, the focus can be less on holding events and more on two major programs, Downtown Beautification and Build Up Marietta.

“Now we can focus on the bigger picture and more of our mission,” Arnold said.

Marietta Main Street’s philosophy aligns with Main Street America’s approach to downtown revitalization. Launched as a movement about 35 years ago, Main Street America was founded on the understanding that a community is only as strong as its core, and the heartbeat of a community’s success as a whole is fully reliant on the strength of its downtown.

The model of Main Street has proven successful enough that other area communities are becoming involved.

In 2010, the City of Parkersburg applied to be part of the West Virginia OnTrac (Organization, Training, Revitalization and Capacity) Program and was selected to participate. The OnTrac program was created by Main Street West Virginia and the National Historic Trust to help cities create a comprehensive approach to economic revitalization and historic preservation by focusing on four key areas: design, promotion, economic restructuring and organization. In 2018, Downtown PKB became the newest certified Main Street program.

For Thomas, the future of Marietta Main Street is bright. Projects include brand new holiday decorations in the fourth quarter and launching a few new events this summer and fall. New murals will be installed this summer and they hope to have the opportunity to update some downtown signage. Growing the staff that currently only consists of Thomas is also a real possibility.

“Next year, we hope to have a near-finalized version of a comprehensive economic development plan for downtown Marietta and continue growing our current events and programs. In the next two years, we hope to have grown our financial capacity enough to sustainably hire another staff member. Marietta Main Street is run entirely by one executive director and a whole lot of volunteers — adding another staff member would be an accomplishment in and of itself, and our impact would be that much greater,” she said.