Near the turn of this century, Main Street in Gloucester sat anchored at its most southern end by a shopping center. Years before, it was awash in activity and bustling with commerce. But by the early 2000s, this shopping center only boasted a shut down department store, a closed grocery store and a handful of struggling small businesses and restaurants.
Although traditional Main Street itself boasted the county government offices, some restaurants, and a few retailers, the fear was that the trend was moving to big box shopping. For that reason, vacancies were on the rise.
The late Edwin Joseph and his wife, Adrienne Ryder-Cook Joseph, both Gloucester citizens, watched all of this unfolding, becoming increasingly concerned.
“Why would people come to Main Street to shop at the nice little stores when they could come to Wal-Mart and get everything?” Mrs. Joseph said. “Edwin wanted to try and give businesses on Main Street the support that they would need to stay alive against the competition of the big box stores.” Not to mention, a thriving Main Street has much larger implications on an entire community.
“If you are not from Gloucester and you drove down Main Street thinking about a place you might want to move to, you would look at the Main Street to see if it’s a community that would work for you,” Mrs. Joseph said. “A thriving Main Street benefits everybody, all 40,000 people who live in Gloucester county.”
So, in 2002, Mr. Joseph purchased the struggling shopping center and rehabilitated the property to include a new library, creating a model for revitalization and support of a Main Street that’s been called one of the most unique in the country.
“Gloucester is currently the only sustainable Main Street model in the nation,” said Jenny Crittenden, who has been the executive director of the Trust since 2006. “What a visionary Edwin Joseph was to have had the forethought and creativity he did to create this model based philanthropy, where his gift would benefit all those along the corridor of Main Street itself as well as the entire community nestled around it.”
The income (rent) from the shopping center was placed into a trust—the Main Street Preservation Trust, founded officially in 2005. The Trust puts all profits from the Main Street Center to benefit Gloucester Main Street through attracting new businesses, enhancing the economic and business environment, preserving historical landmarks in the Courthouse area and promoting civic and cultural activities.
The Main Street Preservation Trust continues to invest in façade grants, but it also invests heavily in business operations, marketing and positioning consultancy with Main Street businesses.
“This Main Street—the original Virginia village—proves true that a thriving Main Street becomes the heart of a community, drawing people in and benefitting far more than just those who set foot on it,” agreed Ms. Crittenden.
“Gloucester Main Street is a unique model. But it’s one that works. And the best part . . . it’s only the beginning.” Retail Alliance members in Gloucester’s Main Street area: Yolanda’s, winner of Retail Alliance’s Retailer of the Year 2016; Up South; Heart Felt Touch Massage; Kelsick Market; Silver Box; Village Blacksmith; and, The Nines Pet Boutique.