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Street Talk

Stan And Ollie Work In The Valley


Faith Garcia and Stan Dai are radio journalists. They work for Our American Network. They were in town all day Monday, like from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. – pretty sure that’s not how long they wanted to spend in Water Valley for their story. The first six hours were real journalism, recording the voices and opinions from a whole bunch of folks on Main Street. 

But the last three and half hours turned in to a modern day Mark Twain scene.  You see, already set up for Monday afternoon was a picket fence painting party, pickets for the Pocket Park. Spread on six sawhorses were some 80 pickets that  Charlotte Lane I were going to paint. 

Faith and Stan joined in, painting the pickets. I’m not sure if that makes me today’s Tom Sawyer, in the selling of the task, but they seemed to enjoy it. They said they’d be back.

But that’s how it works on this Main Street. It’s a hands-on experience.  Folks start on a project and others pitch in or at least cheer and support the effort. And it is and has been an effort, a big effort. Water Valley is coming up on 10 years for being part of the nationwide Main Street program and we’ve made a splash. Not only in the press, which has been significant, but also in the effort and attitude, And, best of all, in the results. You ain’t nothing unless you got results. And results on Main Street can be measured. In this four-block long area of Water Valley’s historic commercial downtown, there are 90 more people working than 10 years ago with just shy of 10 million private dollars invested. Some 30 structures have undergone extensive renovations, and there are 26 more businesses today than a decade ago. Those are  not aggregate numbers, but to the good. There have been several businesses that have tried and not made it or moved on to other places. This Main Street functions as a business incubator and it is important there is that opportunity. 

The price of Main Street property has also changed, the entry-level price of historic commercial downtown real estate. In general the price has gone up in 10 years. But what is really impressive is the price for renovated commercial real estate. One building downtown has appreciated, based on selling prices, by 390 percent in 10 years. Now, of course, that’s the high example and the building has had extensive renovations. 

But it says a couple of things; there was the initial faith to invest, the economic vitality that the investment was returned, and the expectation that the building will still produce. Renovated historic commercial is now appraising, on average, at 300 percent over a decade ago.

The spill-over effect from downtown in to the surrounding historic residential has been good also. A recent sale of a near to downtown historic house went for 270 percent more than it sold for 13 years ago. Again that’s the high example, but solid historic houses near Main Street have doubled in value in the last decade. Still the Valley is deal is good if you’re willing to work hard.

So a recent opinion column in the New York Times caught many Main Street eyes nationwide. The headline was “The Myth of Main Street” and the writer, Louis Hyman, a guy with a Harvard history PhD, suggests that the business model of Main Street is idealized, nostalgic, and out of date idea. He suggests that this business model now cost more than it benefits.  His column, like mine, is an opinion. I’m sure he can back his opinion up with research. I like to do that also, but also back mine up with a sweat and shoe leather investment. And though it may sound intellectual elitist, the Valley has had four Harvard history PhDs put in sweat equity: Oliver Dinius, John Ondrovcik, Theresa Levitt, and Nicolas Trepanier. That’s right, all four have put in real effort in the Valley.  All have worked on downtown renovations and projects. Just a note: three have owned homes here;  Dinius and Ondrovcik have loaded construction dumpsters till we were drenched; Levitt renovated both historic commercial and residential buildings here; and Trepanier has helped produce Main Street events. 

Maybe if Louis had pitched in like Faith, Stan, Nicolas, Oliver, John, Theresa, or the literally other hundreds who have worked to bring this Main Street back, he’d have different feel. That Main Street is no myth, but is very real and alive and, best of all, for everybody.

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