VANCOUVER — There is no doubt that Vancouver’s Main Street has been making a comeback over the past few years, says Linda Glover, executive director of Divine Consign, one of Vancouver’s Main Street strongholds, and an active participant in Vancouver’s Downtown Business Association.
“During the recession, we saw so many closures on Main Street,” Glover says.
But then, a few years ago, business owners along Vancouver’s main drag — in the downtown core as well as the burgeoning Uptown Village area — started to see some changes. Empty lots transformed into welcoming green spaces, lights went up to add to the safety of the downtown area, flower baskets and art sculptures made the area more attractive to visitors and creative entrepreneurs started to fill once-vacant storefronts with small art galleries.
“That’s how it often works,” Glover says. “You start by building up the galleries, then the restaurants come, then the retail stores.”
Having a Main Street that attracts cafes and theaters and galleries and boutiques makes the entire downtown — and in Vancouver’s case, uptown — more attractive to residents and visitors.
Vancouver’s Main Street has transformed so much that the thoroughfare is gaining some widespread attention. In early January, Sunset magazine included the local Main Street in its “West’s Best Main Streets” feature.
The magazine named McMinnville, Ore.’s Main Street as the winner, but listed Vancouver’s Main Street as the number four runner up, along with two Main Streets in California — Carlsbad and Petaluma — and one in Sheridan, Wyo.
The honor was no surprise for Glover, who has been working with local business groups, including Vancouver’s Downtown Association. She says Main Street shareholders still have work to do — filling vacant buildings, providing better parking options, marketing the downtown to motorists passing by en route to Seattle or Portland, keeping up with the safety measures that help make the area attractive to visitors at night and finding a way to better connect the downtown with the rapidly growing Uptown Village — but adds that the local Main Street is a success story when you consider where it was even six or seven years ago.
Other business owners and employees along Vancouver’s Main Street were also not surprised that their little neck of the southwest Washington woods was being recognized for its appeal.
Misty Castleberry, a designer at Comfort Interiors, at 901 Main St., says she has high hopes for Vancouver’s Main Street both as an employee of a Main Street business and as a Vancouver resident.
“It’s changed immensely,” Castleberry says of her city’s main drag. “Living in Vancouver, we often head to Northwest 23rd or Mississippi (shopping districts in nearby Portland, Ore.), but I see Vancouver’s Main Street as having the potential to become like one of those streets … if we can bring in some more restaurants and build up the waterfront area, I think more people will come down here. I’ve seen it changing just over the past few years. Now, we get people coming in from the (farmers’) market who have never been down here and they’re surprised by how much is already here.”
Quyen Tran, owner of two Main Street businesses in downtown Vancouver — Harmony Florist and the attached Gaia Java coffee shop — agrees that the local Main Street has a lot going for it. When Tran was looking for business opportunities six years ago, she focused on Vancouver’s Main Street because of its central-downtown appeal.
“It’s changed a lot since then,” Tran says. “The city seems to be putting more effort into the downtown.”
Like many other downtown Vancouver business owners, Tran is looking forward to the mixed-use residential/retail developments happening in the spaces between the city’s traditional downtown, which is bordered by the interstate, the Columbia River and the railroad, and the Uptown Village area, which is easier for Vancouver residents and other Clark County visitors to access.
Tran, along with Glover and Castleberry, says connecting the two areas would help draw people into the downtown area and give the downtown Main Street small businesses better exposure.
Until then, however, Vancouver residents can take pride in their Main Street as it is now, and know that, according to the folks at Sunset magazine, at least, the local thoroughfare is already one of the top five Main Streets in the western United States.