By Bill Kohler
2021, where do I begin?
Should we begin with the elephant in the room who roared to life in 2020 and affected nearly every aspect of our lives?
Should we begin with all the changes, the variants, the deaths and the should-you or should-you-nots of masks and vaccines?
When it comes to looking back on the year that was in downtown Waynesboro, I think we should focus on the triumphs and the victories and the stories of hope and perseverance.
We should never forget those we lost in 2020 and 2021, whether from COVID-19 or other causes. We should always remember those dear to us, and those who are fighting to keep us safe, healthy and alive even when we sometimes do our best to ignore the writing on the wall.
The motto of Mainstreet Waynesboro is “…bringing hometown to downtown,” which means a lot to me, because this is my hometown. I grew up here and have lived most of my life here.
It matters to me what happens here and it matters deeply to our organization and its leaders, staff and volunteers. We care about the little things and the big things. The little touches and eyes for detail are what make this hometown downtown special – and we’re just getting started.
So, as we march into 2022, let’s take a victory lap and remember the little things that happened during a pandemic that will have huge impacts down the road:
- Greetings! Mainstreet introduced downtown’s first mural and first public art display. The 20-foot-wide by 8-feet tall Greetings from Waynesboro, Pa. mural on the side of 22 W. Main St. was imagined by Mainstreet, and created and painted by teacher Melanie Erb and her students, and paid for by the community. People pose for selfies in front of it, visitors returning to town look at it with a sense of pride and the students who painted it will have a part of their work on display for a long time.
- Beauty by Design. Thanks to the generosity of donors and fueled by volunteers, we added flowers and a new golf cart to our Mainstreet Flower Patrol. Our hanging and potted downtown flowers are the envy of many communities.
- Higher standards. Our amazing little downtown library, the Alexander Hamilton Memorial Free Library, received Gold Star status in 2021. This means better things for patrons and the community. This came at the tail end of a challenging 18 months for all of us, including the library, with shortened hours, staff shortages and a decrease in foot traffic. Congrats to the library board and staff!
- A star was named. Mainstreet honored the generous and kind Alma Oyer by naming the star atop the town Christmas tree in her honor for generations to come. Her giving has left a legacy that will have a positive impact for generations to come in her hometown.
- A star was saved. The nonprofit Waynesboro Community Theatre Project, of which I have been a board member or officer since its inception, pretty much singlehandedly saved the Waynesboro Theatre at 75 W. Main St. The tenants went out of business because of COVID, and the WCTP, which owned the building, leaped to action. Instead of panicking or wallowing in a state of fear or woe, the WCTP purchased all of the theater’s assets and started running it. We showed more than 60 movies in 2021, did more than 20 rentals, hosted birthday parties and did several fundraisers for local youth and community groups. More than 100 movie events are planned for 2022. The response from the community and sponsors has been tremendous. Thanks for helping keep this state-of-the-art jewel running and thriving.
- Market magic. The fourth year of the downtown Waynesboro farmers market, aptly named Market at the Park, was another success as we expanded the number of Saturday markets, welcomed an average of 22 vendors and 600 visitors every market and continued our entrepreneurial efforts downtown. Look for more fun and healthy activities for year No. 5.
- Back to normal. Although current concerns are troubling, Mainstreet rebounded in 2021 from COVID-19 restrictions by hosting most of its normal fun events, including several key fund-raisers like the Father’s Day Car and Truck Show, Market Day, the Waynesboro Wizarding Weekend and the traditional tree lighting ceremony and Christmas parade. We also hosted our annual Downtown Food Stroll and our first Boro Sip n Stroll. All of these downtown favorites are scheduled for 2022.
- Mainstreet also was honored in June with a pair of 2020 Townie Awards: One for our One Brick at a Time project next to Zoe’s Chocolate and one for the work of 2018-19 intern Marcus Cooley. The highly-competitive Townies are awarded by the Pennsylvania Downtown Center, and are the second and third Townies for Mainstreet since 2016.
- 21 in 21. Major progress was made on Mainstreet’s “holy grail” project of rehabbing our building at 21 E. Main St. The façade of the building was totally redone and it’s a winner. We had hoped for more progress in 2021, but engineering drawings took longer than expected, and COVID concerns also played a role in delaying the next phase of work. Our goal is to continue to turn the money pledged and raised toward this project into a wonderful downtown game-changer that supports our mission and creates long-term sustainability for the organization. Stay tuned!
- Speaking of facades. Mainstreet and the state handed out more than $25,000 in façade grants in 2021 to improve the fronts of several buildings in downtown Waynesboro. Acts like these really make a visual difference, and create jobs for local workers.
- Creating partnerships. Mainstreet continues to bridge gaps with more organizations and businesses through our events and our connection with the downtown movie theater. I firmly believe that when more people are connected and feel a part of the organization and their town, the more they want to support your efforts and participate in making downtown a better place. We will improve our town by working and strategizing together for the greater good.
- Sensory perception. A constant theme driving me for the last 5 years has been improving the aesthetics and safety of downtown Waynesboro. Of course, this is a big category, but can be achieved through tasks large and small: Doggie bag stations throughout downtown, brighter street lamps (thanks to the Borough of Waynesboro, especially Councilman Jon Fleagle for your insight and leadership on this), more lights in alleys, more lights in store windows , Christmas music playing downtown during the holidays, creating a window washing team to help business owners, encouraging property owners to improve the “ownership” qualities of their buildings and open spaces.
- Thinking outside the box. The moment, day, week or month you stop doing this, momentum fades. Mainstreet Waynesboro will continue to operate as if our future depends upon this philosophy.
- Engagement. One of the best programs of 2021 was the start of the Downtown Window StoryWalk. Our partnership with Erica Nemzek of the Waynesboro Area School District’s Be the Village program and sponsor Nora Roberts Foundation has been extraordinary on so many levels. It brings families downtown, gets people walking and reading, gets them looking at and in stores and restaurants, and engages our business owners as well. The program will continue in 2022.
But none of this could happen without the support of our community: my dedicated co-worker Angela Smith who does so many important things behind the scenes, volunteers, donors big and small, and businesses who support our events and activities, the Borough of Waynesboro, our board of directors.
Together, we will continue to improve the downtown, little by little, step by step, and one brick at a time, and in turn, have a community that we all can enjoy and be proud of for generations to come.
Bill Kohler is director of economic development for Mainstreet Waynesboro Inc., a nonprofit started in 1996.