What is a "Main Street"?

What is Main Street?

Established in 1980 as a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Main Street Center works with a nationwide network of coordinating programs and local communities to encourage preservation-based community revitalization, and has equipped more than 2,000 older commercial districts with the skills, and organizing framework they need for renewal during its 35-year history.


The Main Street movement grew out of a recognition that a community is only as strong as its core. In an era when many people had given up hope about the commercial and cultural viability of downtown, and when suburbs, shopping malls, and big box retailers were dominating the American landscape, this seemed like an unlikely proposition.  But, the practical framework outlined by the Main Street Approach, as well as the passion of the professionals and volunteers who make up the Main Street network, helped to pave the way for the renaissance of healthy, vibrant downtowns that we’re experiencing today.

Source - National Main Street Center (Main Street America) Website


Main Street Mason City is a local program of Main Street America.  In 2004, the Mason City Downtown Association earned recognition as a National Main Street community.  Because of this recognition, our program has access to state (Main Street Iowa) and national support.  As a National Main Street community, we have access to many online and in person resources to assist in the development of our Downtown community.  We follow the Main Street 4-Point Approach pioneered by Main Street America.  


What is the Main Street 4-Point Approach?

A community’s business district often accounts for as much as 30 percent of the district’s jobs and 40 percent of its tax base.  But, Main Street is more than an economic asset.  It is also a community’s center, a place that evokes strong emotions and helps define our identity.

In recent years, many approaches to commercial district revitalization, from urban renewal to paint-up, fix-up projects, have failed because they focused on just one or two problems, rather than dealing with the full spectrum of interrelated issues that affect the district.  

The National Trust Main Street Center (Main Street America) offers a comprehensive strategy to commercial district revitalization that has been widely successful in many towns and cities throughout the country.  The points described below are the keys to the success of the Main Street Four-Point Approach.


Organization means getting everyone working toward the same goal.  Using a volunteer-driven program with an organizational structure of a governing board and committees can ease the rough work of building consensus and cooperation among the groups that have an important stake in the district.


Promotion means selling the image and promise of Main Street to all prospects.  By marketing the district’s unique characteristics to shoppers, investors, new businesses, and visitors, an effective promotional strategy forges a positive image through advertising, retail promotional activity, special events, and marketing campaigns carried out by local volunteers.  It serves to improve consumer and investor confidence in the district.  


Design means getting Main Street into top physical shape.  Capitalizing on its best assets - such as historic buildings and traditional pedestrian-oriented layouts  - is just part of the story.  An inviting atmosphere, created through window displays, parking areas, building improvements, street furniture, signs, sidewalks, streetlights, and landscaping, conveys a visual message about what the commercial district is and what it has to offer.


Economic Restructuring strengthens a community’s existing economic assets while diversifying its economic base.  By helping existing businesses expand and recruiting new ones to respond to today’s market, Main Street programs help convert unused or underutilized space into economically productive property and sharpen the competitiveness and profitability of business.

Source - National Main Street Center