Main Streets across Arkansas continue to serve as community cores
By Zoie Clift
Main streets represent the heart and core of communities. Every community and commercial district has its own distinct sense of place and heritage that it shares. “Our small businesses positively impact our communities in so many ways,” said Greg Phillips, Director of Main Street Arkansas. “They are the unique businesses that differentiate our communities from each other.”
Main Street communities throughout Arkansas are open to visitors and have been adapting to the current times of COVID-19 with a top priority of keeping customers and employees safe.
The Main Street Arkansas program is a preservation based economic development program for the revitalization of Arkansas’s historic downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts. There are 21 designated Main Street Arkansas programs and 19 Downtown Network programs in the state.
Stacy Hurst, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, recently announced an increase in annual Downtown Revitalization Grants for local communities that take part in the Main Street Arkansas network. “The increase in funding is specifically for COVID-19 relief for small businesses in our Main Street districts,” said Phillips. “We are hopeful this supplementary assistance, coupled with other forms of assistance, will enable our small businesses to remain open and continue their role as a vital part of their communities they have always been.”
Phillips said in early spring, several Main Street programs stepped up to the task at hand and implemented innovative initiatives to help their small businesses in the midst of a continually shifting informational and economic environment.
During the early days of COVID-19, many Main Street directors helped their small businesses navigate the application process for PPE (personal protective equipment), PPP (Paycheck Protection Program), EIDL ( the Economic Injury Disaster Loan) and other COVID related grants and loans.
Phillips said communities approached the unprecedented times in various ways. Main Street Russellville supported their downtown restaurants by buying meals for local first responders. “This was a way to provide revenue for these restaurants when they could not provide dine in service and served to say thank you to the front-line workers in Russellville,” said Phillips. “Fort Smith’s 64.6 Downtown created a single-source location on their website for COVID information, funding opportunities, and business strategies to reduce information overload and help businesses navigate resources. Main Street El Dorado connected businesses with skilled volunteers to help create or strengthen their online platforms. The Downtown Jonesboro Alliance and Main Street Batesville, among others, devised utility and rent assistance programs. SoMa501 and the Downtown Little Rock Partnership partnered to install an outdoor dining room in SoMa to expand seating options and increase sales for businesses in proximity as they restructured for social-distancin
Main Street Arkansas is a program of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, which is an agency of Arkansas Heritage, a division of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.
“For more than 35 years, Main Street has built a history of problem solving through innovative and entrepreneurial thinking while utilizing the very assets that make downtowns unique,” said Phillips. “Through this pandemic and economic crisis, it has become even more evident that our relationships are spatial. Our hope for Main Street programs in Arkansas is that they continue to be the epicenter of community participation, belonging, and health; that they continue to have a crucial role in supporting small businesses; and that they are looked to as the leaders for increasing quality of life and restoring the vitality of their communities.”
Cathy Drew is a lifelong resident of the region that she loves to promote. As a matter of fact, she was born in downtown Batesville in the late ’60s, which is in one of the eight counties she now enjoys encouraging people to visit.
She has two sons, Jonathon (Jon) Drew, his wife Devyn Stewart. Drew is also grandmother to Jon and Devyn’ s son, Jase Drew. Corey Richardson, and is grandmother to his three sons Nathaniel. Zane and Jaxson.
However, Drew can’t skip the other part of her family: the pets! Lady Bird, Bullet and of course, Howard
Drew, became associated with the Ozark Gateway Region in 1990 while working at the ad agency (The Media Market Inc.). The agency handled marketing for the regional association where she along with her co-workers produced an annual tabloid publication. She began work as the director of the Ozark Gateway Region In June 2000.
After Drew became director, she took the region to the next level by helping the tourism organization create a new website and moved it from the old newspaper paper tabloid publication to a color magazine format.
Over the years Drew has helped the organization meet new marketing goals, such as in- and out-of-state marketing, assuring that all 105,000 copies of their magazines are distributed each year.
Drew also helped the region create a heritage trail map that is still on posters in many establishments across the region and Arkansas. She oversaw development of a motorcycle route map that folds into a credit card format for riders, as well as those seeking scenic routes to enjoy the beautiful Ozark Mountains.
She helped open a visitor center for the Ozark Gateway, allowing visitors to pick up information from across the entire state 24/7.
In 2016, she assisted creating the first Ozark Gateway Region Golf Classic and the tournament continues to grow each year, allowing the organization to grow its co-op program, helping each county have dedicated promotion. Drew stays busy at Ozark Gateway as the ad sales manager, magazine editor, day-to-day office operations, trade show representative, as well as magazine distribution representative all while making sure that the region is represented all over Arkansas and southern Missouri.
Drew has been featured in several local and statewide publications over the years as well as the 1997 cover of the Ozark Gateway Region tabloid along with her then 4-year-old son, Jon. She has received several awards such as the Batesville Rotarian of the Year in 2010 as well as a three-time Paul Harris Fellow.
She also has served as an Independence County election commissioner for several years and now serves as their co-election coordinator, helping with behind-the-scenes management of voting equipment, day-to-day election deadlines as well as poll worker training.
Drew serves on the Arkansas Travel Council Board of Directors, Batesville Rotary Club Past President and is the Rotary Clubs current publicity chair.
In March of 2018, Drew was honored with induction into the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame for her many years of dedicated service to the tourism industry.