Cultural heritage tourism: Main Street USA

Submitted by Kelly Woodard (kelly@thesga.org)

Thomasville_Mainstreet Historic Thomasville, Georgia (courtesy of the Georgia Archives)

MSNBC recently featured this story praising the flourishing Main Street Program located in Thomasville, Georgia. This news reel discusses how Thomasville’s award-winning program is helping the small Georgian town prosper, even during a recession.

Thomasville, Georgia, prides its Main Street Program through its intimate relationship with small businesses implementing historic preservation as a means to bring a small community closer together. Whether the city is assisting historic property owners with renovation and restoration of buildings or providing opportunities to participate in match grant programs provided by the City of Thomasville to encourage façade restoration, the program works aggressively to pursue redevelopment of threatened areas and properties through the Downtown Development Authority.

Established in 1980, the National Trust for Historic Preservation created the Main Street Program which currently focuses attention to the success of small businesses, especially retail shops, restaurants, and locally unique businesses. The underlying premise of this model is to promote economic development through historic preservation. With the Main Street Model, it is possible to keep bustling sidewalks in downtown and local districts well into the evening hours through the implementation of theaters, restaurants, and other entertainment businesses which leads to economic growth for the local economy through what is known as Cultural Heritage Tourism.

The Natural Trust defines Cultural Heritage Tourism as traveling to experience the places, artifacts and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present, including cultural, historic and natural resources. The main goals of cultural heritage tourism include improving the quality of life for residents as well as serving cultural heritage travelers who will most likely stay longer and spend more money than travelers who are not affiliated with local history and its cultural environment.

Although the main street program seems flawless, it is important to understand that these historic models must not become as large as to destroy the attractions that created cultural heritage tourism in the first place. Local infrastructure, which includes roads, airports, water supplies, public services, and historical and archaeological sites must be able to handle the increase of visitors and populations.

In my opinion, the Main Street model is culturally, economically and realistically a step in the right direction as a means to build local relationships and economies as our society begins to move away from giant retailers and industrial farming models. Local is in; just look at our food preferences (local farms) and clothing choices (local boutiques). Historic and archaeological sites fit perfectly within this model. Sites must make their way into these local economic models by gaining the interest of the public and making people aware of what the past has to offer.