PA Main Street Program helped downtown communities recover from the pandemic, according to a study by the Pennsylvania Downtown Center (PDC), in partnership with Jon Stover & Associates (JS&A).
The study was part of PDC’s ongoing mission to support Main Street and Elm Street programs throughout the state.
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted local economies and the day-to-day lives of people in communities across the country and world. Businesses of all sizes and in all types of communities were forced to adjust their operations in response to changing regulations, consumer preferences, and safety measures starting with the onset of the pandemic in early 2020.
Immediately after the pandemic’s onset, Main Streets across the state mobilized and began helping their local businesses respond to these new challenges, roadblocks, and unprecedented changes in the economy, PDC said.
JS&A’s analysis, conducted in July 2022, found that with the support of these programmatic efforts, customer traffic quickly bounced back, and downtown consumer spending surpassed pre-pandemic levels for most of 2021 and throughout 2022.
“In short, it was clear to us that the PA Main Street Program played a major role in the economic resiliency and recovery of downtown communities throughout the pandemic,” said Jon Stover, managing partner of JS&A. “Main Streets provided a local conduit for national, state, and local resources and administered a range of technical and financial support services that help explain how most of these communities recovered relatively quickly despite the pandemic’s long and devastating impacts.”
The critical on-the-ground support that PA’s Main Streets provided enabled thousands of businesses to adjust and sustain their operations, the study showed. Providing direct financial resources, support in applying to grants and loans, and disseminating health and policy updates all worked to support the operations of local businesses.
Main Street programs also effectively attracted customers to downtown business by leveraging social media, incentivizing ways to shop local during the pandemic, and creatively programming public spaces and hosting outdoor events to boost nearby business sales, the study showed.
Even as local economies began to stabilize, elevated levels of local customer support continued throughout 2020, 2021 and into 2022, and has remained a lifeblood for Main Street businesses, pointing to the strong customer bases that these programs nurture in their communities, PDC said.
“To say that the last few years have been challenging for Pennsylvania’s downtowns and neighborhood business districts is an understatement, however this study speaks to the resiliency and dedication of PA’s Main Street Programs,” said Julie Fitzpatrick, executive director, Pennsylvania Downtown Center. “We saw first-hand the social and economic impact of the local nonprofits’ assistance, and the power of residents shifting their spending to support these local businesses as we’re all adapting to this ever-changing market.”
The project was financed in part by a state Department of Community and Economic Development Keystone Communities planning grant.