One of our latest polls was somewhat alarming — 69% of more than 1,500 small business owners surveyed ranked their Main Streets as mediocre — or worse!

On the positive side, 30% said their Main Streets were busy and booming and we expected to see more of that sentiment, as other polls about the general economy, the 2019 holiday season, and overall 2019 sales were much more positive.

In fact, we were hoping to write a story about 2020 perhaps becoming the Year of The Main Street Renaissance, but unless you prove this survey wrong in your comments below, we’re pretty sure that Renaissance might need to wait for 2021.

But, getting back to our poll at hand, we had many people like Patricia Nossen-Johnson from Metta Architecture in Portland, OR reveal that “too many homeless people in the downtown make it undesirable for people to shop.”

Karen Beadle from PRO Rich Nutrition in Oceanside, CA, echoed those sentiments becoming rather nostalgic about the past.

Missing My Old, Safe Main St.

“I loved downtown, I loved the restaurants, the pier!!” Karen wrote. “I have done Taste of Oceanside 3 times and have added people with us. The real downside now is the homeless population. They are aggressive, dangerous and scary. If I go to a nice restaurant like 333 Pacific, I don’t want to be accosted by a scary person grabbing at my left overs. And yes that happens. I don’t want to see people high on drugs or shooting up right in front of me. I can no longer enjoy my precious pier or beaches.”

Beyond complaints about the homeless from about 35% of the 400+ small business owners who commented after taking the survey, empty storefronts, reduced foot traffic and the lack of fancy boutiques were other frequent complaints from those who found their Main Streets lacking.

“I believe the challenge these days is in business development outside of the food and beverage industry,” wrote Jeffrey Nagel from NAGELsport LLC in Edmonds, WA. “Any vibrant main street needs more than coffee, donuts, wine, and flat breads. We need a rebirth of the boutique industry…in my humble opinion. My main street is thriving, but of course I am referring to the nightlife. During the day, I don’t give it a thought to visit.”

And Lynne Spencer from The Lending Corporation in Sarasota, FL said parking and elevated rents are two more big hurdles for Main Street merchants in her town.

“If you didn’t have to pay to park, we could do more shopping, eating, spending, etc.,” Lynne explained. “Additionally, a lot of stores have gone out of business because of this and the continual increase in rents.”

The Upside: Main St. Makeovers

While there was no shortage of complaints or problems raised about the current state of Main Streets, the 30% of respondents with Main Streets they are proud of said it took a lot of work to get there. But that work has resulted in dramatic turnarounds, paying off in communities like Carrollton, GA, Prescott, AZ, and Pittsburgh, PA.

“Our Main Street organization is doing a fantastic job maintaining and increasing the vitality of our downtown,” wrote Russ Green from Gallery Row Coffee in Carrollton. “All the events and promotional efforts help keep most businesses hopping. There are nearly no vacancies, although it would help to have more stores remain open for people to visit after eating in one of our fantastic locally owned and independent restaurants. Also, the City needs to address the need for more parking.”

Cecelia Jernegan from Forest Villas Hotel in Prescott, AZ also reported some welcome news about her Main Street area.

“I have watched our downtown grow up over the past 25 years,” Cecelia wrote. “We now have the BEST city manager, we have a great mayor and passionate city council. We also have very committed and involved citizens that truly care about the direction of our city. The whole greater Prescott region is growing and we are never going to stop the growth. We can certainly respect the land and environment plus hold on to our western heritage. Downtown Prescott and the courthouse plaza needs to keep her charm that so many people are looking for from memories of yesteryear. The Prescott downtown partnership formed in 1999 in conjunction with many other organizations and non profits does a great job. But remember living in paradise begins in your own heart.”

There’s Always Hope — Just Look At Pittsburgh Today

And, ending on a super hopeful note, we turn to William Kofmehl from Christian Literacy Associates in the Pittsburgh, PA area.

“As a resident in Pittsburgh metropolitan area for 76 years, I am amazed at what has happened to upgrade so many areas,” William wrote. “My children have moved back into Pittsburgh itself to places where their grandparents and great-grandparents originally lived. So many 100 to 150-year-old homes have been wonderfully renovated. So many storefronts have been revamped. I highly recommend anyone wishing to “move out of Los Angeles or San Francisco” to COME TO PITTSBURGH. — for homes, education, art, medical treatment, etc.”

So where does this leave us? We want to hear more from you to see if your Main Street is bucking the negative trend. More important, we also want to know what has worked to revive your Main Street, so that others in our Alignable community can work with their town officials to help to elevate their Main Streets to a much better state. This is a hot topic and could lead to a few follow-up stories, as well.

Thanks for reading and please keep those comments coming!

Contributed by Chuck Casto from Alignable