Although local business owners were asked in a survey what they wanted to see in 2047, Mike McMullin, president of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, said the answers undoubtedly were indicative of what they want to see now: new life on Main Streets.
And to bring them what they want doesn’t have to take that long either, as some towns have already undergone Main Street revitalization and others are in the process now.
McMullin presented his findings — which he compiled with help from Launch Carroll and professor Robert Lemieux’s business students at McDaniel College — to the Board of County Commissioners at the Long Term Advisory Council’s late November meeting. With a focus on revitalizing Main Streets, prioritizing technology education and high-speed internet connectivity, he said the wants of business owners don’t need to wait 29 years.
“The first thing will probably be to work with the municipalities to revitalize the Main Streets,” McMullin said.
According to the survey, which asked business owners to rank various items from “very unimportant” to “very important,” 98 percent of respondents feel revitalizing Main Streets is important for the business community moving forward.
When asked to write in what single idea business owners had to revitalize Main Streets, the top responses included: appearance improvements, remodeling, community improvement, homelessness, safety and partnerships.
One town that has experienced success through its downtown revitalization is Sykesville.
The town’s Main Street was once desolate, but increased its appeal by 2016, when Sykesville was crowned Coolest Small Town in America by Budget Travel.
The Downtown Sykesville Connection was established in 2011 — when it started taking ideas from Main Street America programs — and now shops owned by locals vary from books to sporting goods to ice cream, anchored by longtime restaurants like E.W. Beck’s, which has been open since 1992, and newer establishments like Patapsco Distilling, which opened in 2017.
In 2018, the DSC continues to work with the town, business owners and landlords to bring projects like the local artist murals retelling the story of the Sykesville snallygaster and outdoor speakers to play seasonal music in the streets, as well as its annual beer festival, which has become one of the largest in the state.
“It’s a different way of seeing and encouraging economic development, by creating an emotional connection between people and places,” DSC Executive Director Julie Della-Maria said. “It’s a sense of belonging and empowerment, and it has worked with us both for the residents and the businesses.
“The small businesses that are family-owned are extremely proud to be on Main Street, feel like they belong here,” she said. “You cannot fake passion, and passion is a very powerful tool in following the national Main Street movement.”
Della-Maria also said that help from landlords has created a unique partnership for the town.
“We also have the luxury of working with very dedicated landlords that also made the choice to implement a lower rate for commercial rentals — because they want to bet on the future, they want to bet on success,” she said. “So they’d rather collect less money monthly knowing the person that is renting will be there in 20 years.
“That’s a part of the entire Main Street vision on how to conduct economic development,” said Della-Maria.
The city of Taneytown has also undergone revitalization. When Economic Director Nancy McCormick got there in 1996, she said Antrim 1844 was one of the only businesses downtown.
“There was just a few businesses in the downtown area,” she told the Times, “and it was hard for them because they weren’t supported by the local people and there [weren’t] really any activities to bring people downtown.”
She said landlords making a climate friendly to small businesses has also played a large role in economic development in Taneytown.
“We have a new shop coming in probably mid-January,” said McCormick. “She’s actually been a shop for about eight years in Mount Airy. It’s called Firehouse Pottery. She does glass fusion and pottery, and stained glass and all kinds of stuff.
“And then we have a repurposing shop called Rust,” she said, “a new flower shop — [Victoria Clausen is] the top floral designer in the state of Maryland, we have a dynamic bakery. Six new businesses came in this past year.”
And more businesses are coming.
In the early planning stages, brewers David Palmer and Jesse Johnson said Taneytown was “rolling out a red carpet” to welcome them.
“I’m the advocate for businesses,” McCormick told the Times. “There’s rules and regulations, and sometimes I don’t agree with them, so interpretation is another term I use. It’s how they’re interpreted.”
A key to a thriving Main Street is adapting with the times, she said.
“It’s constantly revisiting,” said McCormick. “You have to. You can’t be the same old, same old. We’ve got a lot of history, got a lot of today, but we’ve got to look at tomorrow — because those are the people who are hopefully going to move into town.”
The town of Hampstead is in the middle of its Main Street renovation and streetscape work, a project Mayor Chris Nevin said has been discussed since at least the 1990s.
“We had so much traffic on Main Street prior to the bypass being completed that it was a detriment to the businesses on Main Street,” Nevin told the Times. “It was just a traffic jam every single business day.”
In addition to the State Highway Administration construction of a bypass to Main Street, streetscape work on the southern side of Main Street has already been implemented — with new sidewalks and lampposts.
“When our Main Street is completed, it’s going to be a long-term asset for the town,” said Nevin. “And I would say 30 years is on the short end. As long as you maintain it, it should be an ongoing asset and a business draw for the community for the very long term.
“It’s kind of neat,” he said, “because it’s completely modern-day, up-to-date technology under the street, but it’s much more the historical main street feel from the ground up.”
Westminster has the longest Main Street in Carroll County, and Mayor Joe Dominick said most likely one of the largest Main Streets in the country. Because of that, he said, Main Street projects can be just as lengthy — and expensive — but also one that “all levels of government and factions of government can work on.”
“Everybody wants a great Main Street,” said Dominick, a business owner and member of the Carroll Technology Council. “Everybody wants a great Main Street — even opposing political ideas tend to favor strong Main Streets: If you want business growth in a municipality of a county, Main Street is one of those places you can get it.
“If … you don’t want growth, a good way to keep most of the county the same is focus on Main Street.
“Main Street is always the heart of areas more agricultural and rural,” Dominick said.
The Carroll Arts Center in the restaurants surrounding it on the end of Main Street closest to McDaniel College, and the recent addition of the Boys & Girls Club near the library is another way to bring more families and businesses in.
“Just like when people talk about if there’s something bad somewhere it can spread, it’s the same thing with positive things,” Dominick explained.
“If I wanted to open an ice cream parlor, or candy store, or a gaming store, what a great way to get free advertising and foot traffic than put it right by the Boys & Girls Club,” he said. “That’s an area of Main Street that has more vacancies than other areas and that could change everything.”
County Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, prides himself on looking ahead when it comes to business as he is a business owner himself. As a newcomer to the Board of County Commissioners, he said he wants to work on Carroll’s small towns.
“Two in my district are New Windsor and Union Bridge,” Bouchat said. “I think it is shameful that they seem to be left behind so far, and I intend on fixing it.
“Manufacturing corporations along with small businesses in small towns make our county development prospects favorable on the long term,” he said.
And he said progress can be made within the next four years, during his first term.
McMullin said that in addition to revitalizing Main Streets, providing business incentives, and improving permitting processes were very important — as well as prioritizing high-speed internet connectivity, education, and public safety.
“We are doing something right in Carroll as it is,” McMullin said. “We have to think about how to do things better, and better and better.”