Main Street Stories: Durham

Civic pride and local economic success are intertwined. Main street is the symbol of how we care for our community both in the physical sense – how the place looks and feels and the economic sense – our mix of thriving businesses. Communities value having a strong main street and, as we know, main street is largely shut down. At a time when our economic options to support our local businesses are different and somewhat limited – gift cards, take out, online ordering – our civic support is there to assist.

Walking around downtown Durham, NH this week, I discovered hand painted rocks with messages of hope, a likely home school project shared for civic good. The sudden shut down of downtown businesses has been dramatic and certainly unsettling. Reading the closed signs on some business doorways gives you a sense of this disruption but the signs are positive about coming back soon and thanking customers. It is a reminder that this is about business owners as people. You get the sense of their hope, and commitment to the town. 

While we are not connecting in the shared space of main street we move to our virtual spaces to connect and support our businesses. Celebrate Durham met virtually this week. This is a volunteer-led effort to network, promote and create vibrancy on main street and in town. The group has been meeting weekly for three years, and this week, the number of attendees vastly increased. Businesses needed to connect with each other to share stories of new initiatives for curbside pick-up and challenges with seeking available support. In sharing they helped each other. Town staff were there to listen and offer some new programming ideas. Volunteers were listening to find ways to lend support. Emmett Soldati from TeaTotaller in Somersworth, NH joined the meeting to share his new initiatives for his business and small businesses in NH. Sally Tobias, from Celebrate Durham, shared that hearing from Emmett helped the group think about new ideas and feel connected.

This virtual convening to focus on main street and its businesses is a strong step toward future economic recovery. Relationships between community leaders, staff, other towns and businesses will be important in understanding needs and accessing recovery resources. Civic initiatives such as these will be key in bringing back main street.

I am interested to hear your story of supporting your local businesses and main street during this time. Please reach out to me at molly.donovan@unh.edu