Returning Life to Main Street

By Nat Eliason

One of the many goals of the Creator Towns project is to help towns cure their "Main Street Blight."

Main Street Blight began in the 80s and 90s with the rise of Walmart, and has accelerated during the 2010s with the assistance of Amazon. Small town main streets used to support a variety of retail establishments, but as it became cheaper and more convenient to shop in one place or online, those retail stores slowly shut down. Some towns have adapted, but many haven't, and are now dotted with boarded up buildings waiting for new tenants.

If we want small town main streets to return to being the lively, busy, centers of activity where you want to spend time during the day and are likely to run into your community members, we should find ways to shift the businesses away from things we can get online, and towards things we want to get or enjoy in person.

To create a more lively main street, we should encourage opening businesses that provide services and experiences which are:

  • Affordable
  • Communal
  • Regularly enjoyable

A coffee shop is a classic example. Coffee is affordable, cafes are communal, and you might go enjoy a coffee every day.

But obviously we don't want every storefront to be a cafe. So what else fits? Restaurants and bars, of course, though there would be opportunities to make these more communal of experiences. Membership based food halls with large communal tables is one example. Barcades and other group-game-oriented bars are another.

We can get more creative though. Bath houses used to be a classic gathering space for men and women, but have become less and less popular, likely from a combination of permitting difficulties and increased aversion to communal nudity. Axe throwing is another popular venue type we've seen emerge in the last few years. And whatever happened to bowling?

Some of these would have to be slightly off main street for space considerations, of course, but you get the idea. Reinvigorating main street is not just a question of population and money, it's also a question of what businesses replace the old retail establishments.

We'd like to start a list of interesting businesses that fit these criteria. If you have any to suggest, please tweet at us.

Here's the running list:

Restaurant variations:

  • Food halls
  • Communal kitchens

Bar variations:

  • Barcades
  • Wine bars
  • Breweries

Communal spaces:

  • Bath houses

Activities:

  • Axe throwing
  • Bowling