The Importance of Chester County’s “Main Streets”

A vital downtown not only serves as an icon of a healthy community, but also as a foundation for economic health, local quality of life, and community pride. In Chester County, there are 15 boroughs plus the City of Coatesville which each serve as a civic, economic, and population center with its own unique set of characteristics and “sense of place.”

In the Planning world, these town centers are often referred to as “Main Streets” – a program which stems from the 1980s and includes downtowns that have established central business districts. For sustained economic success, Main Street areas need strong support from their communities in order to cultivate partnerships, encourage local involvement, and provide resources and overall guidance.

Main Street Organizations (such as Business Improvement Districts, business associations, and other membership groups) can help a town center flourish by implementing economic, design, and promotional activities. Additionally, Main Street Organizations can help raise and seek funding, provide a point of contact for visitors and residents, and facilitate coordination between municipalities and the local business community.

One key component of a Main Street is its economic vitality. Municipalities can partner with organizations and financial institutions to identify potential financial tools to assist existing businesses, as well as identify opportunities for new businesses. Additionally, a Main Street’s design components – such as the physical arrangement and visual appearance of the street, sidewalk area, public spaces, and building frontages – is another important factor. A well designed Main Street can also help to attract visitors and investors, increase local property values, promote energy conservation practices, and increase safety.

Lastly, Main Street programs must provide promotional activities in order to get the word out about their communities and support to their central business districts. Examples of promotional activities can include outreach via social media, mapping, signage, events, and festivals, as well as discounts and advertisements in local publications.

Municipalities can also help to promote Main Streets by creating a promotional strategy, implementing activities, providing infrastructure for activation activities (such as public spaces, clear permitting processes, and waste removal), and creating processes and ordinances that allow for these activities.

Learn more about the key components of Main Streets, including: Organization; Economic Vitality; Design; and Promotion.

The Planning Commission’s eTools cover a wide array of planning topics, from natural resources to economic development. The tools are easy to read, providing a quick overview of each topic, a brief explanation of how it works, and considerations for addressing the topic or regulating use. An alphabetical listing of eTools is available in our Municipal Corner.