Operating an organization like Newton Main Street can be a challenge if the businesses in your district are forced to shut down or alter services for an entire year because of the pandemic.
Erin Yeager, executive director of Newton Main Street, said 2020 was full of unknowns, but there were just as many silver linings to grasp onto. Despite the pandemic’s limitations and the economic hardships that followed, Yeager said Main Street was still able to act as a support network for business owners.
“We had to learn to pivot on any given day not knowing what would be thrown at us,” she said. “We became a stronger Newton Main Street organization and a stronger Main Street program as a whole state. We learned to be creative on how to continue to fundraise and bring awareness to the community.”
Newton Main Street was still able to make community connections and beautify its district with highly visible, curbside projects. Of note was a project the organization started fundraising for the previous winter: utility box wraps. Seven downtown utility boxes were decorated with ornamental wrappings.
Each one depicted historical, black-and-white photographs of what downtown Newton looked like several decades ago. Yeager said all of the boxes were funded by businesses or families in the community. The process, she added, was not to just pick photos and slap them onto boxes.
“It was hours spent looking at the location of the boxes and finding the historical photos significant to the area,” she said. “Newton is very lucky to have local volunteers that know the history of the downtown and love to volunteer their time.”
Main Street’s mission is to preserve the history and invest in the future of communities, and the utility box wraps were a creative way to do just that. Yeager said since Newton is already full of artwork and sculptures around town that the utility box wraps fit in nicely with that established aesthetic.
“What I want everyone to do is take time and go look at the boxes, look at the history of our town,” Yeager said. “During COVID we were unable to do walking tours of the boxes. Because of that we created a walking, (self-guided) tour that can be found on Newton Main Street’s YouTube channel.”
Newton Main Street had a wildly successful farmers market season in 2020, which certainly caught organizers by surprise. Yeager said vendors increased from about 10-12 to 18-20. Because of the tuckpointing work at the courthouse, the Newton Farmers Market also moved its location.
Even with the governor requiring farmers markets to adjust for spacing, Newton organizers held their event in front of businesses on North Second Avenue and around the corner of The Farmer’s Wife on North Second Street West. Yeager said the positive response was overwhelming.
“Each week our number of patrons grew, as well as new vendors,” she said. “The town came out to support the vendors to feel some sort of normalization that we could during COVID. Then the storm hit, which moved us to all of North Second Avenue. Once again we were making a change on the fly.”
In 2021, Yeager added the Newton Farmers Market will return to North Second Avenue with more new vendors, and organizers hope to add some live music and other attractions.
Yeager is “incredibly proud” of the community for their support of small businesses during the pandemic. She his also proud of the Main Street board and volunteers for never giving up during such a difficult time and pushing the organization forward.
The #NewtonStrong campaign shirts helped solidify community support, too. Yeager has served as executive director for almost two years now, which she said is hard to believe. Her goal was to build stronger committees, a stronger board, get new volunteers and tell Main Street’s story.
“I am very lucky to have a great group of volunteers that make this job worthwhile and community that shows support,” Yeager said. “I could not do this job without my board members and volunteers. I am so excited for this year and the things to come.”
Visit Newton Main Street’s new website at www.newtoniowamainstreet.com
Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or firstname.lastname@example.org