Kansas Main Street Director Scott Sewell stopped in Junction City last week to meet with members of Junction City Main Street.
Junction City is among the first three Kansas communities to be accepted into the state’s Main Street program since Gov. Laura Kelly revived it. The program is in place to help small communities revitalize their downtowns. It’s largely a self-help program, meaning participating communities’ programs will eventually be expected to become self-sustaining.
“We provide a lot of training and technical assistance and resources to the local programs, but it’s really designed to be a self-help program” Sewell said. “You have to want to do it yourself, because as many times as I can come to the community and meet with people and talk about issues and help kind of guide you, it’s up to the local people here to make that happen because they’re the ones that live here. They have ownership in it.”
This is Junction City’s first time in the program.
“Junction City’s application was top-notch,” Sewell said. “It’s easy to just look at an application for a program like this and check off the boxes, but they didn’t just check off the boxes. They went above and beyond to make sure that the people that were reviewing the applications — and they made a presentation — they really left no doubt in any of our minds that they’re ready and capable of being in the program. So far, they’re doing great.”
Though Junction City was accepted into the program in February, he said last week was the first time anyone from the state had been able to come to the community and meet the Main Street board members in person in part because of COVID-19.
“We’re super excited to be here visiting the community for the first time,” Sewell said. “We’ve met with some people that are current business people, we’ve met with investors who are doing some cool things downtown or will be. There’s just a ton of excitement here in Junction City and that’s just going to snowball as we keep going.”
Sewell forsees shaking off the COVID-19 economy and sustaining its current businesses will challenge Junction City and other similar communities. But he said he felt the past year and the pandemic that colored most of it had presented new opportunities as well as challenges.
“It kind of revealed those businesses that maybe need to improve their e-commerce platforms, may need to look at new ways of selling and doing business than just opening your door from 8 (a.m.) to 5 (p.m.),” Sewell said. “That’s the way we’ve looked at COVID. Yeah, it was difficult for all of us. It didn’t single anybody out. It was worldwide. But we look at it that if you don’t learn from something like that and get better for it, then you’ve missed out on an opportunity. So Junction City’s going to have some of the same problems that almost any downtown in the country has — just keeping downtown healthy and viable and making sure that people want to come downtown on a regular basis — not just to shop but to eat, to play, to have fun.”
Sewell said he expected the local program to help businesses learn to weather economic downturns. While he said he does not expect there to be another pandemic along the lines of COVID-19 anytime soon, economic hardships are always a possibility and the local Main Street program should be able to help with that to some extent.
Junction City Main Street has people from multiple sectors working together toward the same goal — something Sewell said is what makes a successful Main Street program.
“For whatever reason over the years, that probably hasn’t been the case here in Junction City,” he said. But “when you get that excitement and that cohesiveness and people all start thinking on the same page, that’s when you do things like this … It’s the people in the community. Right here in Junction City is a perfect example. It’s the people that have a commitment to downtown, that understand the downtown is really the heart of the community and they want to make sure it stays like that and gets better over time. So it’s really about the people and that’s what’s exciting about being here is meeting people in person — not over Zoom — and visiting with businesses and people who are investing in the community.”
Sewell said he believes support for local businesses and having “an open mind” about and embracing Junction City’s historic downtown and unique aspects will help make the local program a success.
“We’re excited to be here and really excited that Junction City is part of the program,” he said. “I think the future here is great and there’s a lot of exciting things happening and we’re looking forward to having a small role in helping that happen.”
On the subject of things happening downtown, Junction City Main Street will be hosting several upcoming events this year.
Aug. 15 there will be a Cinderella Social in front of the C.L. Hoover Opera House. This fall, Junction City will host an Oktoberfest celebration and a Volksmarch — a German walking 5K.
Keep an eye on the Junction City Union for further information on upcoming events.