“YES! THAT’S WHAT WE WANT TO SEE!” EXCLAIMS STOCKBRIDGE main street program Manager, Kira Harris-Braggs, as she and Main Street Program Assistant, Lisa Fareed, check on the Little Free Library, which is located by the Ted Strickland Community Center on Martin Luther King, Sr. Heritage Trail in Downtown Stockbridge. “There are definitely new titles in the box. People are starting to realize that this book exchange is here. It didn’t take them very long,” replied Fareed as she pulls several books from the brightly painted book box.
The Stockbridge Main Street staff is a team of two dedicated ladies, who have worked tirelessly, since the program’s designation on January 26, 2015, to bring vitality to, and spark interest in, the City’s downtown area. This Little Free Library is just one of the new amenities and initiatives that they have developed for the city. Along with an eleven-member advisory board that is made up of citizens, bankers, business owners, arts representatives, and community leaders, this dynamic duo has created a robust workplan and brought statewide notice to the program.
“Our first challenge was to educate the community about the fact that Stockbridge actually has a downtown,” says Harris-Braggs about the program. “Most people would ask, ‘Where is downtown?’ They did not know that the area around the current City Hall building, including Burke Street, East Atlanta Road, and the recently renamed Martin Luther King, Sr. Heritage Trail, is what was historically identified as downtown Stockbridge. Once that fact was established, we made a conscious effort to implement programming that specifically brings attention to the downtown and the city’s rich history.”
Some of these programs include, the Main Street Movies, a family-friendly movie showcase, that is hosted every summer on the City Hall lawn; Stockbridge Stories, a series of activities, social media posts, public displays, and events, that highlights interesting people and different aspects of the City’s history; a partnership with the Cochran Public Library, that promotes literacy, culture, historic preservation, and the arts; Stockbridge Small Business Saturday, an annual event held in conjunction with American Express’ national focus on small businesses; and its most popular endeavor, the Stockbridge Little Free Library Project, which places free “book exchange” boxes in locations that encourage exploration of the Main Street District and the surrounding area.
“Our programming is designed to help people identify downtown Stockbridge as a fun and interesting place that is full of possibilities. If we can get people to come downtown, we can get them to care about downtown,” says Fareed. “This will, in turn, spark interesting conversations, build partnerships, and create the buzz that we need to bring businesses to the area. Main Street is a positive program, that is ultimately an impactful vehicle for economic development.”
In 2017, the Stockbridge Main Street Program was chosen to participate in the highly competitive Renaissance Strategic Visioning & Planning (RSVP) Program. This partnership between the Georgia Municipal Association, the Georgia Cities Foundation, and the University of Georgia’s Carl Vincent Institute works with selected cities across the state and provides them with expert consultants and technical assistance to develop a vision and strategic work plan for their downtown areas. “After going through the six-month RSVP process, we now have a dynamic plan for downtown Stockbridge,” notes Harris-Braggs. “We are looking to totally reconfigure the area to better accommodate new businesses, downtown living, restaurants, and entertainment outlets. This is an exciting time to work and live in Stockbridge.”
The Stockbridge Main Street Program is one of 100+ programs across the State of Georgia and part of a national network of over 1,800 active Main Street entities. This community-driven initiative focuses on the deliberate and conscientious revitalization of older, traditional business districts throughout the United States. The underlying premise of the Main Street concept is to encourage economic development, within the context of historic preservation, in ways that are appropriate for today’s marketplace. Main Street programs advocate an emphasis on downtown areas based on their unique assets, which usually include distinctive architecture, a pedestrian-friendly environment, businesses that are locally owned, and a true sense of community.