Moving Forward Through Uncertainty

As Connecticut transitions from our initial, deliberate steps in managing this public health and resultant economic crisis, we are now in the forward-looking and proactive recovery process. Our ultimate goal is to ensure we have more resilient communities that are better positioned to weather adversity.

Over the past four months of emotional and economic difficulties, I’ve been encouraged to see such creativity and innovation from small business owners, from downtown managers, and from the combined efforts of municipal departments. You have been collaborating and working overtime to connect citizens to their Main Streets, even at the height of the pandemic. From adapting local zoning and regulatory systems to bringing people together via virtual events, the out-of-the-box thinking has been impressive. We’ve seen parking lots and side streets converted to outdoor dining rooms, and art galleries, concerts, and back porch happy hours being programmed virtually. I believe all of these efforts will go a long way toward affirming the loyalty of local citizens and visitors as people feel more confident returning to downtown.

Most recently, our downtowns have served as natural staging areas for the outpouring of emotion and passion for more inclusive and equitable communities, evidenced by protests of all sizes with people of all colors, ages, and backgrounds. Our public places were designed for people to express their desires for a better community, and our communities cannot be healthy unless they are inclusive.

CMSC’S Recovery & Resiliency Programming 

CT Main Street Center exists to provide knowledge and tools to help our Main Streets and their small businesses survive this challenging time and thrive in the future. To that end, we are developing educational programming around our theme of Recovery & Resiliency.

As we look at the challenges small business is facing, we were struck by the findings from Main Street America’s small business survey, The Impact of COVID on Small Businesses. An alarming 63% of small business owners responding to this survey do not have e-commerce in place, to complement their storefront operations. Even without a global pandemic, it’s hard to understand why small businesses would not capitalize on opportunities to capture consumer spending that has been trending more and more toward online shopping. During the height of COVID-19, online ordering was really the only way to shop and eat local.

In response to that alarming statistic, CT Main Street Center teamed up with Arnett Muldrow & Associates to develop our Small Business Resource Library.  This library debuts with a video series which walks viewers through all of the steps of setting up e-commerce: the decisions a business owner needs to make that suit your business best, providing the pros and cons of the choices you’re faced with, such as which online platform is best for you, fulfillment options, and more. Other videos are equally helpful in thinking through social media for downtowns and merchants, and re-opening and ongoing safety and cleanliness protocols for the health & beauty industry. These videos are brief (8 – 20 minutes each) and conversational in style. We encourage downtown managers, municipal economic development directors, and especially small business owners to view these free videos as many times as you wish.

Our partner in this resource library, Arnett Muldrow & Associates, LLC, is a Professional Affiliate member of the CT Main Street Network, and has worked in a number of Connecticut communities, including Sandy Hook, Cheshire, and Canton. Arnett Muldrow & Associates works with communities throughout the country, offering solutions that focus on an economic development strategy, retail market research, community branding, and historic preservation. In September, CMSC will schedule a live Zoom follow-up workshop with Tripp Muldrow. We will discuss small business recovery and Tripp will be available to answer your questions. We will announce the date of that workshop soon!

And More…

We will continue our Recovery & Resiliency theme throughout this fall and into 2021. Recognizing that there is continued investment in our downtowns, this October we will present our virtual Main Street Summit. This year’s theme is Creative Financing.  We will explore the many layers of financing and funding needed to ensure investors in downtown are better equipped to restore our many historic mixed-use buildings. We will highlight financial programs that assist small businesses to start-up or expand – including those that focus on people of color and/or women-owned businesses.  We will also look at funding options for infrastructure and placemaking projects that help create vibrant downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts. You will hear from experts on these various financial tools and learn about examples of how they have been utilized across the state.

In November we will explore “Creativity, Adaptability, & Inclusiveness: Creating Resilient Main Streets”. We look forward to featuring a select group of Connecticut downtown practitioners who will discuss how they are working with public and private sector partners to revise local policies and practices – while bringing community into their conversations – with the goal of creating more vibrant downtowns.

In 2021 We Look Forward to Gathering in Person!

One critical aspect of effective leadership is the ability to demonstrate foresight, to plan for what might happen. With that in mind we will program a workshop in March on “Crisis Management: Lessons Learned & Planning for the Future”, featuring a panel of Connecticut downtown & municipal professionals who will share their stories and approaches in ensuring health & safety, establishing effective communications systems, and facilitating catalyst activities that result in stronger communities and bring people back following crisis. We hope this will engender further discussion about what systems and practices we must have in place in case of natural or man-made disaster – or a global pandemic.

In April, we look forward to the return of our popular Spotlight on Main Street event, which we present in partnership with CT Economic Development Association. Mayor Pete Bass and Economic Development Director Karen Pollard will welcome us to beautiful downtown New Milford, where we will gather at Makery Coworking, experience a guided walking tour, and learn about the progress of the adaptive reuse plan of the historic East Street School and the exciting downtown waterfront redevelopment plan. We invite you to make the trip to New Milford!

In Closing…

People are proud of and want to spend time in lively places filled with choices: to shop, to dine, to stroll, to just sit and people-watch. This is what Main Street provides. We have much work to do to help our small businesses and our communities recover and become more resilient – and our programming for the next year will examine how we go about that work. We invite you to join our virtual (and eventual in-person) programs and events. Thank you for all you do to bring your Main Streets back to life!

Signs of a Proud Place

Civic Brand’s 10 Signs of a Proud Place, is a 3-minute video walking tour through Salida, Colorado with Ryan Short and his two adorable kids. It notes the 10 indicators of a place where people want to live, work, play, and invest: Murals, Great Parks, No Parking Minimums, Street Patios & Parklets, Nooks & Crannies (activate those alleys), Art, Infill Development, Local Breweries, Local Ownership.


About the Author

Associate Director of Connecticut Main Street Center, Kimberley Parsons-Whitaker works closely with municipalities and downtown organizations throughout Connecticut, assisting local leaders and citizens in their efforts to bring their Main Streets back to life.  She collaborates with State officials and experts in placemaking and economic development in efforts to bring much needed resources and expertise to Connecticut’s Main Streets.

Since 2000, Kim has been a key figure in the planning, development and evolution of CMSC to an award-winning statewide economic and community development organization, which has grown participation by 800% since 2005. Currently she oversees CMSC’s member services, educational programming, and the CT Main Street Awards program.

Kim is a 2018 graduate of the Leadership Greater Hartford Quest program and serves on the Board of Directors of the CT Economic Development Association, where she is co-chair of the Best Practices Committee. Since 2013, Kim has been a member of the Design Review Advisory Committee for the Town of West Hartford.