Friday, June 15, 2018

Look at You, Scottsboro! You're a Main Street Community!


Wow! What a journey! We've been working for four years to revitalize and regrow our downtown district. Sometimes it has been frustrating, disheartening and exhausting. Other times, it has been rewarding, exhilarating, and exhausting. But yesterday, it was WORTH it! That is because, yesterday, Scottsboro officially kicked off our acceptance as a Main Street Alabama designated community.

You can read about how we got started and what we started with just four years ago by clicking on the links below:
Scottsboro is a Hidden Gem, Y'all
Scottsboro, Poised for a Brighter Future
Scottsboro's First Monday and Art Sunday
Scottsboro Jingles with Christmas Spirit
Downtown Scottsboro's Market on the Square
Scottsboro, The Time is Now
Dear Scottsboro
Scottsboro, It's Not for You

We began to see a light at the end of the tunnel last fall, when our new mayor, Robin Shelton, indicated his interest in helping Downtown Scottsboro with our Christmas event, Jingle Bell Square, which had been growing every year. With his blessing, encouragement and ideas we were able to turn last year's Jingle Bell Square into our biggest and best yet. He formed a Christmas Committee to bring his idea of holding our event on the same day as the city's Christmas Parade to fruition. The committee took it a step further and also planned a 5K race and a Jingle Bell Trail of decorated Christmas trees all around our square. We learned a lot (trees planted in newly turned dirt from sidewalk construction will tilt) but we were thrilled with the overall outcome.


The real ray of hope, however, was when the mayor told us he wanted to hire an events and marketing coordinator. We could not have been more excited. We were still in the planning stages of our Christmas events when Meg Nippers was hired. To say that she hit the ground running would not be an understatement. Right away, we began to lobby for Scottsboro to apply for acceptance into the Main Street Alabama program.

We learned a lot on the fly. I felt a bit like I did when my boys first started running cross country. I would hear parents talking about shoes and spikes, times and splits. None of it made any sense at first, but gradually I began to understand and pretty soon, I was one of those parents throwing out the same terms so cavalierly. So it was with Main Street. One of the first decisions we had to make was whether to apply for full Main Street designation or just to become a networked community with some of the perks but not all. My first thought was that the time for Scottsboro would never be more right than it was right then. We had the momentum, the leadership and the foundation. I was afraid if we didn't jump in full force, we might never dive all the way in, so I pushed hard for us to shoot for the stars. Main Street Designated City or Bust! Meg agreed, so we began to press forward with that outcome in mind. Meg was a fast learner and she quickly began to compile the steps we would need to take to be successful.

The first and most important step was getting the backing of the community. How many great plans have failed because the people most affected were not involved from the beginning? We decided to hold some town forums so people could hear about Main Street and ask questions. We had two meetings. One was with one of the Main Street directors and the other involved the directors of some of the towns already designated. We invited the public to both meetings so people could get their questions answered directly. I secretly prayed that people would be as interested in this program as those of us who had been learning about it for the last four years.

One other hurdle we had to jump was to get approval to proceed with the application process from our City Council. If your city council won't support the effort, you are dead in the water. The council has to commit to the process from the beginning and they can't just give a verbal nod. They have to commit to fund the program. While the Main Street fees are nominal, especially compared to the services you receive, talking about money always makes people nervous. Scottsboro was lucky that our City Council President, Tony Wallingsford saw the value of being a Main Street community. He put the vote to apply for  Main Street status on the City Council's agenda. Had he not done that, we could never have been selected. When I tell you the support of our leaders has been tremendous, I mean it sincerely. Our council voted unanimously to allow us to proceed with the application.

There were tons of forms and paperwork to be completed. Application to the Main Street program is not for the faint of heart. Meg was a trooper! She compiled all the data, crunched numbers and filled out every form. Once all of the paperwork was finished, we had to create binders for each member of the selection committee. We also had to map out the downtown area we wanted to include in our district. Only commercial areas could be included and it had to include the Square. We decided the Willow Street corridor from the Square to Unclaimed Baggage was vital since it gets so much traffic, so that plus a few more streets around the Square were incorporated into our map. Main Street limits how much area you can incorporate. In addition to the maps and all the forms Meg filled out, the binders had to include letters of support from the community. Main Street wants to come to communities where they can effect change. If the community is resistant, there is not much Main Street can do, so we needed to show that we had community support. We begged and pleaded on social media and in person for the citizens of Scottsboro to send in letters for us to include. We had no idea what a good number of letters would be, but we ended up with 75 and hoped it was enough. We were impressed with the quality of the letters we received. They were heartfelt and eloquent. I hoped the committee would see the passion the people of Scottsboro have for their town.


We needed a presentation committee. Meg, of course, was our leader and she had all the facts and figures. I was on the committee simply by virtue of still being around. Downtown Scottsboro had gone through several different incarnations by this time and I was the only founding member left. My greatest asset was that I knew the timeline of how Downtown Scottsboro came to be and the steps that had gotten us to this point. We asked Brenda Cantrell of Unclaimed Baggage to join us. We knew her ability to speak before cameras would be of great benefit to us. As the brand ambassador of Unclaimed Baggage, she has been the face of the store and its biggest champion. Her passion and enthusiasm would be a fine addition to our committee.  Finally we asked Nat Cisco to to round out our committee. As the founder of Revive, a Facebook group that got the topic of downtown revitalization buzzing, Nat has a lot of love for his hometown. He also has a tremendous mind for the history of Scottsboro. Since history was a big component of the presentation, we knew he would be vital to our committee. I can't tell you how many times he had to correct our erroneous ideas of Scottsboro's history.



Next we started a social media blitz to get the attention of Main Street. Working on the theory that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, we started putting pictures on our social media pages and we tagged Main Street Alabama in each one. They were a little bit silly, a lot fun and we hoped Main Street would see how much we wanted to be part of their program. I felt things might be going in the right direction when Main Street shared one of our pictures and the directive, "This is awesome-Keep showing the love!" They didn't have to tell me twice!


Our next task was coming up with a presentation that would wow the selection committee. Since we didn't know who our competitors were (I tried my best to get Main Street Director, Mary Helmer, to tell me and she wouldn't budge!) and we had no idea what a good presentation would entail, we decided we would start with Main Street's own four-point framework of organization, promotion, design and economic vitality. The plan was to hit those four points as we told the history of Scottsboro from beginning to present day. We especially wanted to show the committee how the last four years had brought us to this point in time and why we were uniquely ready for Main Street designation right now. Brenda thought we should use the blog post, Scottsboro, It's Not For You, so we put pictures of Scottsboro (many people generously shared their pictures with us) in a video presentation and read the blog as the pictures ran. We also had pictures in the presentation to go with each period of the town's history and we narrated as the pictures played across the screen. Finally, we used #putaringonit on one of our social media pictures where we had Brenda in a bridal veil (Unclaimed Baggage has EVERYTHING!) as the City of Scottsboro accepting a ring from Main Street Alabama, portrayed by her colleague, Matt Pittman. I don't know how enthused Matt was at being drafted for our photo opportunity, but Brenda told him, "Just go along with it. Some of Richi's ideas are hokey, but they work." I'm not sure if I was being complimented or insulted. Regardless, we decided to carry on with that theme and made a video where we conned different citizens around town into either humming "All the Single Ladies" or simply saying, "If you like it then you oughta put a ring on it." That video made up the final portion of our presentation.





We gave each member of the selection committee a little suitcase, complements of Unclaimed Baggage. As we carried the selection team members through eight different periods of Scottsboro's history, from statehood through the present, we presented them with items to go in their suitcases. They got eight items including Coke and peanuts to represent the time in which Payne's Drug Store was built on the Square, an old newspaper from the Scottsboro Boys' Trial and magnets Meg made out of the old cobblestone that had just been removed from the square to represent the current changes being made to our downtown, among other things. We told them their bags would be packed and they would be ready to come to Scottsboro by the time we concluded our presentation. At the end, the committee members had time to ask us questions. Since the Mayor and Unclaimed Baggage president, Mike Elkins, had traveled with us, they got to join us for this part of the presentation. I can't even begin to tell you how invaluable their input was. They added so much depth and insight to the discussion and we were beyond grateful for their support and involvement.

I'd travel anywhere with this group!

By the time we finished, I think we all felt pretty good about our efforts. I knew we had done the best job we could have done. Now we just had to wait to see if it was good enough. When Main Street finally called to tell us we were one of the chosen three, we were ecstatic! The Mayor had said all along we would be chosen, but I had a lot less confidence. It was such a relief to get that call.

Making it official!

But...all of this is just the beginning. Now the real work starts. People keep asking, "now what?" Actually, we don't know. You see, the next part depends on us. As the Main Street directors told us, every city's story is different. But Main Street will be with us to teach, guide, hold our hands and push us. That is a big advantage! We will document the progress here as we go along. We can't wait to see what the future holds for our town. Stay tuned. In the meantime, thank you to every single person who has helped or encouraged us in any way. None of this would have been possible without you and nothing that happens from here on out will be possible without you. Together we can do great things!




Main Street Alabama #putaringonit !
Sharing breakfast to celebrate our victory!

We're on the map!


Richi Reynolds
Richi Reynolds

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