Government on Main Street

Think of the types of government services usually located near Main Street.  You’re probably imagining a post office, city hall, a county courthouse, and maybe a state agency.  These often historic buildings are typically the only place in the community where a person can get the particular product or service they need – postage stamps, building permits, marriage licenses, paying parking tickets, etc…  Yes, the government has quite the monopoly on government services.

When government services are downtown, the people who visit them need to go downtown and are much more likely to pick up a convenience item or be reminded of a store for a later purchase.  Over time this can mean the difference between being in the red or in the black for many local businesses.   If you’re following this blog, then you know that keeping sales up in a business for a historic building is a good way to keep that historic building.

So, just as Macy’s or Herberger’s might be an anchor for a mall, government services can act as an anchor for downtowns.  Their visitors and employees are major customer traffic generators that can increase visits and sales for nearby businesses.
A lesser known reason Main Street businesses like being near a government center is because it is convenient – saving time, money and gas.  It’s much easier to walk to the post office to mail the special customer order than it is to close your store early and drive to the post office before it closes.

What if your county is considering rebuilding on the edge of town or your post office is being considered for closure?  Northfield, Minnesota is currently facing this prospect with their post office, located in a building built in 1934 and listed on the National Register. The Northfield Downtown Development Corporation has been busy working with local leadership to raise awareness about the issue locally and educating the community.  Once they heard the news they acted quickly and made it an issue for the whole community.

Courtesy of the Northfield Patch

What if after all your hard work the post office closes or the county rebuilds anyway?  Downtown or Main Street still has a terrific asset standing there: the historic building.  How can it be rehabilitated, reused, and once more contribute to the local economy (and sense of vibrancy)?   Our neighbor to the east (that’s Wisconsin for the directionally challenged) has examined this topic closely and together with the National Trust for Historic Preservation published “Preserving Wisconsin’s Civic Legacy: A Guide to Rehabilitating and Reusing Local Government Properties.”  I know, I know, Wisconsin is not Minnesota.  We have different state laws and lots more (and better) lakes, but shouldn’t we take advantage of their hard work?

Emily Northey, Minnesota Main Street Program Coordinator

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