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Monday, July 10, 2017

Main Street DeLand Celebrates the America’s Main Streets Contest in Style

By: Bill Brunelle, Co-Founder, Independent We Stand

Even the forecast of thunderstorms couldn’t keep folks in DeLand, Florida, from celebrating their recent win in the second-annual America’s Main Streets contest. The Independent We Stand- and STIHL-sponsored contest came to an end last month after more than 300,000 votes were cast by the public. On June 30, the victorious MainStreet DeLand Association celebrated with a “Main Streets Make Us Better” block party to kick off the Fourth of July weekend.

Situated about 30 miles north of Orlando, DeLand is one of Florida’s “small-town treasures.” The city is home to about 27,000 residents and the historic campus of Stetson University. Known as the first city in Florida to have electricity, DeLand is a city of firsts, with a downtown area boasting dozens of independent restaurants, galleries and shops and no big-box chains. The MainStreet DeLand Association formed in 1985, transforming a rundown, abandoned district with a more than 50 percent vacancy rate, into a thriving downtown area now at near 100 percent capacity. The association dedicates itself to continued downtown economic development while promoting and preserving DeLand’s historic roots. 

The America’s Main Streets contest works to highlight the kind of downtown revitalization that MainStreet DeLand has accomplished. As this year’s winner, the association earned a check for $25,000; a certificate for $1,000 in STIHL outdoor power equipment; a website upgrade package and several other well-deserved prizes. The prizes – including the coveted big check – were presented to MainStreet DeLand during the “Main Streets Make Us Better” block party at the end of June. 

Although a strong thunderstorm battered the town earlier that day, the skies cleared and the streets filled for the celebratory block party. Streets were lined with American flags provided by the local rotary club, and a drone flew over the crowd to capture photos of the celebration. As a testament to the very reason MainStreet DeLand won the contest, residents came out in droves to support their downtown. 

With the hefty check and complementary prizes, the downtown association can return the favor, by funding new ways to support local residents. The MainStreet DeLand Association plans to purchase a wireless speaker system to add music to the downtown experience and overhaul its website to make sharing local information easier. That’s news the association and the town’s residents can get excited about. 

“For two or three — or even four or five years — we are going to benefit from winning this contest, and maybe even longer, it will bring us recognition we couldn’t put a price tag on,” said Wayne Carter, executive director of MainStreet DeLand Association. “When you come to DeLand you are going to get great food and find unique clothing, gifts and specialty items you can’t get at a big-box store.”

Downtown organizations like the MainStreet DeLand Association sustain their communities for residents and visitors alike. According to the National Main Street Center, U.S. Main Street programs drove $5.75 billion in local reinvestment, the establishment of 5,498 new small businesses and the creation of 26,909 new jobs in 2016. Through the America’s Main Streets contest and other campaigns, STIHL-sponsored Independent We Stand works to connect consumers, small business owners and downtown associations to one another. 

“Established Main Street organizations like the one in DeLand, with strong support from their community and independent businesses, fall right in line with the mission of Independent We Stand,” said Bill Brunelle, co-founder of Independent We Stand.

This year, 242 Main Streets in 48 states were nominated for the America’s Main Streets Contest title. By winning, MainStreet DeLand secured a year of bragging rights and downtown growth.