Franklin’s downtown district has come a long way, and intends to go further, say town officials.
The Main Street Program held its first meeting of 2011 on Jan. 19 at Town Hall, in order to discuss its objectives for the year and implement strategies that will advance the Town of Franklin as a marketable brand.
The two hour-long meeting was a success according to Schlott, as members were appointed to new positions, new goals were stated and input was given by all in attendance.
According to members, the meeting was an important one, as the Main Street Program covers a considerably large area for its capacity.
“We want to keep our own identity. We’re different from any other Main Street district, because we’re so large,” explained Main Street Program Director Linda Schlott. “We cover almost nine miles of streets. Most Main Street districts are only a couple of blocks downtown. Our district includes Depot Street, Highlands Road, Palmer Street — it’s just a large area. It’s very spread out.”
One of the Main Street Program’s primary goals for this year is to further establish downtown Franklin’s presence through signage and way-finding. According to MSP members, travelers have little indicating to them where the downtown area is as they pass through. As last year’s market analysis pointed out, the district could “benefit” from designation and signage.
Schlott said that producing a free shopping and dining guide for the district is another way the program intends to mark the downtown area for passersby, and is also among the recommendations last year’s town-solicited market analysis made. How many copies of the map will be printed has yet to be determined, however Schlott did indicate that the program intends to print them with a local company.
“We know that shopping and dining is what we want to concentrate on, we just haven’t had a chance to get into any depth on that,” said Schlott. “It’ll list all the special events and businesses in town, and show where the courthouse, gazebo and the chamber is, and those types of points of interest.”
Program member Janet Green, who was recently appointed as chairman, said that getting wayward travelers into downtown Franklin was paramount to the program, which is why signage and branding for the town is being implemented. According to Green, the atmosphere of a downtown setting is largely based on public traffic, by foot or vehicle.
“We have a choice about the type of downtown we can get. It can be thriving or it can be lost,” said Green. “That’s why the Main Street Program is so important, because we can lose it, so let’s work hard to keep it.”
The Main Street Program’s efforts to give downtown Franklin a face can be seen today. A recently installed sign reading “Discover Us!” has been constructed alongside the Highlands Road, welcoming visitors as they enter city limits. The sign was paid for by a grant received by the Town of Franklin last year from the North Carolina Small Town Economic Prosperity Program.
Building an atmosphere
All too often, Main Street shoppers enter a store looking for items that can be found elsewhere. The typical marketplace occurrence is something program members think they can build on in order to develop the atmosphere of downtown.
“We basically talked about establishing a ‘shop crawl,’” said Schlott. “It’s basically where businesses can get to know their neighbors. We would take a section of the district, get with the business owners in that district, and have an open house type of situation where shop owners can work together and really know what all the shops are about,” she explained.
Downtown has in the past implemented the strategy, however Schlott indicated that the organization intends to make it more far reaching. “So when a customer comes to your store and they ask ‘hey, do you have so-and-so?’ the shop owner can say no, and send them to the right shop two doors down,” she said.
But the matter of businesses communicating with one another is not the only matter the program is looking to address, Schlott said. “We want to meet with local businesses to find out what they need from the program. It’s really just a networking type of event. We have formed a committee to work on that,” she said, adding that merchants will benefit from close cooperation with the program.
While both town and commercial entities in the downtown district are working to become well versed with one another, greening up the area is yet another goal of the program’s, according to Schlott. “We talked about getting some local gardeners to help improve some areas of Main Street. but we haven’t really found the sections that we want to work on.”
Cleaning up the Little Tennessee River was also recognized as a priority at the meeting, as beautifying it would allow for future businesses to open up along the river. According to Main Street Program liaison Carolyn “Sissy” Patillo, the Town will be working with Duke Energy to determine what areas of the river can be cleaned, as well as a timeframe on when it should be cleaned. “There are definitely some positive impacts that cleaning [the river] could have.”
‘The rest, as they say, is history’
Finally, giving downtown Franklin a marketable future would not be complete with out capitalizing on its rich past, said Schlott, which is why the program established a district historian.
At the meeting, program member Joan Crowers was appointed as Downtown Historian. Crowers, who has worked as a Franklin merchant and studied its past, will provide visitors with information on Franklin’s history and on the evolution of Franklin’s Main Street.
“I will basically be keeping a timeline of the Main Street Program and its activities, and also keeping record of the events in Franklin,” said Crowers, who urged anyone with photos or postcards from Franklin’s past to contact her at (828)423-3366.
Patillo said that the Main Street Program provides a more than adequate service for downtown Franklin. “I think we’re definitely moving forward from where we first started,” she said of the program. “Now we’re looking at the overall picture, and we can see it is an important part of our community. We’ve really been blessed. We have accomplished so much since we first started to where we are now.”
“We do want to get more of the population’s input on what’s going on. We will be having some meetings so we can know what the community is thinking,” concluded Schlott. The next meeting will be held on Feb. 9, and the program will discuss in greater depth how it intends to implement strategies recommended by the market analysis.