To support its downtown redevelopment efforts, the village of Johnstown is joining Main Street, a program sponsored by Heritage Ohio that helps Ohio municipalities seeking to promote downtown businesses.

To support its downtown redevelopment efforts, the village of Johnstown is joining Main Street, a program sponsored by Heritage Ohio that helps Ohio municipalities seeking to promote downtown businesses.

"This was conceived long before I came to Johnstown," said village administrator Jim Lenner. "Sara Phillips had worked with Downtown Johnstown to put together an application back in 2005. Back then, it was not approved."

Lenner said at the time Main Street required paid staff to be dedicated to community development, an expense that is beyond many smaller municipalities' budgets. Since then, Main Street has relaxed its requirements and offers conditional membership to "emerging communities."

"I think the fact there was not a full-time downtown coordinator was one of the things that was missing," Lenner said. "But since then, they have found that it's too cumbersome for small communities to require a full time downtown coordinator."

The cost of joining Main Street is $2,500, shared equally by Downtown Johnstown, a private 501c3, the village, and Monroe Township.

"It can give them a boost on applications for community development block grants," said Jeff Siegler, director of revitalization for Heritage Ohio, a statewide preservation nonprofit that operates Main Street. "There is a lot of emphasis on technical assistance, capacity building, training and on-site assistance. We try to help organizations tackle their downtown redevelopment."

Siegler said common problems faced by downtown commercial areas are competition from national chains, inexperienced and unsophisticated retail stores in the traditional downtowns, and absentee landlords who do not invest in upgrading existing buildings and infrastructure.

"We try to encourage public-private partnerships to make it more financially feasible to upgrade buildings," Siegler said. "We try to offer trainings for the retailers, to help them improve their businesses."

Siegler said the popularization of automobiles changed the dominant style of marketing and retailing, from closely spaced businesses one could walk to, to large parking lots and big-box stores that customers drive to.

"Cars have had a real impact on the development of cities, and that's not going away," Siegler said. "But on the other hand, dense neighborhoods capitalize on trends for biking and walking and rising gas prices. No one is trying to do away with cars, but we do hope to have more emphasis on downtowns."

Lenner said the village hopes to become a full member of Main Street in the next two or three years.

"It depends on being able to secure a part-time or full-time downtown coordinator," Lenner said. "It's more than just the downtown. It's how the downtown relates to the entire community."