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Main Street Martinsburg

August 23, 2000

Main Street Martinsburg



The first round of responses to a Main Street Martinsburg survey of what people want downtown reveals that it's specialty shops, renovated historic structures and the personal service they don't get at the big shopping malls. A tall order, but since Mayor George Karos has pointed to Hagerstown as an example of a city whose downtown has "come back," let us make a few observations about what we've seen that works.

The customers for these new shops have to come from somewhere, and if they're only the people who work downtown, then there won't be any significant amount of business done after 5 p.m. The neighborhoods in and around the downtown area have to be attractive to would-be homeowners and renters with some disposable income who can walk back and forth to those shops. It may take some incentives - property tax credits and the like - to make that happen.

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Tourism is another must-have for downtowns with historic architecture. Without it, there's no economic justification for renovating to historic standards. Toursim provides economic support for downtown businesses without forcing the city to invest in expensive additional infrastructure. And because tourists do their sight-seeing during daylight hours, they usually don't add to rush-hour traffic loads.

Festivals are a good way to attract people to downtown areas, but they should be designed to help the tax-paying businesses that are already there. If the activity generated by a festival forces businesses to close or features transient sellers of food and crafts that compete with existing shops, the event may do more harm than good.

Finally, the process of downtown rehabilitation has to be ongoing. Fashions will change, and the people interested in wine, cheese and coffee shops will want something else five years from now. Someone needs to look at what's working in similar-sized cities and remember that the old familiar firms with dependable service is one part of the equation, while what's new and suprising is the other.

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