Downtowns and village centers are the beating hearts of our communities.
You only need to stroll down Main Street in Saco to feel the pulse. There is something special about bumping into your neighbor at the post office, or seeing students walking home from school, or grabbing an impromptu cup of coffee at CIA Cafe or a bite to eat at Quiero with a close friend that makes you feel connected to something larger than yourself.
Revitalization of our downtowns – the walkable, denser parts of our towns and cities – is an integral part of sustaining a community that will be inviting and welcoming to families and businesses for generations. We’ve seen this work pay huge dividends not just in our region, but all over Maine.
Our downtowns represent more than just our sense of community spirit, though; they are economic drivers for entire regions and play a critical role in our state’s economic engine. When the downtown in a particular area does well and is vibrant, jobs are created and the tax base grows, which brings more money into municipal budgets to stabilize property tax rates.
This doesn’t happen by itself though. It’s not always about passing one particular bill in Augusta or ordinance from city hall. What is needed is the energy, time and passion of the community to make Main Street a happening place for all to enjoy. We just so happen to have a vehicle for that engagement.
Saco Main Street is a nonprofit organization, independent from the city, that is designated as a Main Street - Maine Community by the Maine Downtown Center. The organization focuses on promotions and marketing, design and preservation, economic development and volunteer organization to revitalize and improve Saco’s historic downtown area. We are designated as a National Main Street program.
You may be more familiar with some of the large-scale community events we put on. Saco’s Pumpkin Harvest Festival, Holiday Parade of Lights, Classic Car Show, art festival, Music in the Parking Lot – just to name a few. But it’s the work one-on-one with our small businesses that is equally important. Helping to both attract new businesses to fill our storefronts and promote the existing businesses that have been here. Sometimes it’s just about discovering what is in your own backyard.
Part of this effort is about the look, feel, and practicality of our downtown. Our Adirondacks on Main program has been a bit hit every summer. We work with local artists and designers to paint these chairs in various ways before placing them throughout the downtown for locals and tourists to enjoy. Have a seat. Stay a while.
Recently, our executive director, Rob Biggs, secured a grant to create an outdoor space in the empty lot next to the Post Office to highlight the green space and encourage folks to experience our downtown from a different perspective. In the same light, our bike racks provide an opportunity for pedestrians and cyclists alike to limit traffic and promote active lifestyles. The flower box initiative livens up the downtown with colorful arrangements in front of businesses. The list goes on and on as to the variety of things this organization does to make Saco a great place to do business and to live.
Recently, I was selected by the board of directors to serve in the top role as president of the organization. Having served on the board for the past few years, I look forward to working with a great group of people to put on wonderful community events, promote all Saco has to offer, and support our small businesses to make this a vibrant place to live, work and play.
I’d like to ask you to join us in these efforts. Be part of this. Maybe your skill set is designing event posters, flower gardening or helping downtown look nice. Maybe your passion is organizing volunteers, fundraising or planning events. Maybe you have some great ideas for our downtown. No matter your interest, skill or time you can give, all is welcome. We have committees that meet monthly and we have committees specifically for our major events as we get closer to them. We can plug you right into the action.
Sign up to volunteer at www.sacomainstreet.org/ volunteer. Of course, peruse the site to learn more about our group, the events we put on, and ways to help beyond volunteering, like making a tax-deductible donation if you’d like to see this good work continue.
Our Main Street relies on people like you stepping up to the plate and those who get involved in making our collective vision for our downtown a reality.
Justin Chenette is serving his first term as the youngest senator in the Maine Senate representing Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Hollis, Limington and Buxton. He previously served two terms in the Maine House of Representatives. Outside the Legislature, he is the owner of Chenette Media LLC, a marketing & public relations firm, works as the marketing coordinator of Saco Sport & Fitness, and is the president of Saco Main Street. Sign up for legislative updates at www.justinchenette.com or www.Facebook/JustinChenette.
Beyond the Headlines
Weekly Column featured in The Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier Newspaper by Rep. Justin Chenette of Saco