A focus on community.

Idaho residents are leading the charge to breathe new life into our downtowns and neighborhood business districts by following the principles of the Main Street program. Main Street is a national movement that guides communities as they work to revitalize their downtowns, sparking their local economies while they restore culturally and historically significant resources in these areas.

Main Street programs can be implemented in towns and cities of any size. Commercial districts taking part in the Main Street program across the nation have generated more than $53 billion in new investment, with a net gain of more than 448,000 new jobs and 104,961 new businesses. Nationally, more than 200,000 buildings have been restored and renovated.

Idaho’s Main Street Program

Idaho has adopted a statewide Main Street program, which means we serve as the bridge between your community and the national program. We can help pool resources statewide and provide Main Street designation and accreditation.

Idaho Commerce also assists rural communities that don’t have the resources to implement a program on their own, and we track program successes, so we can celebrate our communities’ achievements.

Use the resources below to explore the Main Street program.

Benefits of Main Street

For Property Owners:

  • Increased occupancy rates
  • Rent stabilization or increase
  • Increased property values
  • Increased stability
  • Reduced vandalism/crime deterrent
  • Assistance with tax credits, grants, loan programs, design and cooperative maintenance
  • Communication medium with other property owners
  • Better image
  • New uses on upper floors

For Local Residents and Consumers:

  • Enhanced marketplace (better shopping and the benefits of shopping locally)
  • Sense of pride in downtown
  • Social/cultural activities
  • Opportunities to keep kids in town
  • Sense of hometown community
  • Opportunity to participate/volunteer
  • Better communication
  • Political advocate
  • Home values increase

For Retail Business Owners:

  • Increased sales
  • Improved image
  • Increased value of business
  • Coordinated efforts between local businesses and franchises
  • Quality of life
  • Educational opportunities (seminars and workshops)
  • Increased traffic
  • District marketing strategies (promotion and advertising)
  • Better business mix
  • New market groups Downtown
  • Community pride
  • Have needs/issues addressed

For Service Business Owners:

  • Image building/improvement
  • New/renewed/repeated exposure
  • Increased variety of services
  • Healthier economy generates new/more business
  • Increased competition means more aggressive business styles
  • Increased population, new customers
  • Improved image, creates new market

For Financial Institutions:

  • Community Reinvestment Act compliance
  • Potential growth for loans, deposits and other services (bank cards, financial services)
  • Improved image and good will
  • Survival of community, critical to bank success and economic stability
  • Central location more cost effective
  • For Utilities:
  • Additional businesses
  • Longer business hours
  • More employees
  • Healthy businesses feel freer to increase utility use
  • Healthy economy causes community to grow
  • Ensure quality in Main Street public improvements

For Municipal Governments:

  • Increased tax base
  • More tourism
  • Increased property values
  • Increased number of jobs
  • Better goals and vision
  • Healthy economy
  • Better services available
  • Positive perception of Downtown and community
  • Better relations between local government and private sector
  • Increased volunteer base for city
  • Takes political heat, develops consensus for political requests
  • Industrial recruitment
  • Impetus for public improvements
  • Grant solicitation
  • Information resource for city leaders

For County Government:

  • Increased public relations for county
  • Viable downtown increases tax base
  • Multiplier effect
  • Viable downtown is a draw for industry
  • Develops partnerships with city hall
  • Builds pride Heritage preservation
  • Alternative to redevelopment district
  • Quality of life issues
  • Help with parking issue

For Preservationists:

  • Main Street reinforces the common goals of preservation
  • Increases coalition
  • Increased awareness and credibility
  • Education of public and group
  • Improved public image
  • Improved economic feasibility of preservation

Four-Point Approach


The organization establishes consensus and cooperation by building partnerships among the various groups who have a stake in the commercial district. By getting everyone working toward the same goal, your Main Street program can provide effective, ongoing management and advocacy for the district. Through volunteer recruitment and collaboration with partners representing a varied cross-section of your community, your program can incorporate a wide range of perspectives into your efforts.


Promotion takes many forms, but the goal is to create a positive image that will rekindle community pride and improve consumer and investor confidence in our district. Advertising, retail promotional activities, special events, and marketing campaigns help sell the image and promise of Main Street to the community and surrounding region. Promotions communicate your district’s unique characteristics and offerings to shoppers, investors, business owners, and visitors.


Design means getting Main Street into top physical shape and creating a safe, inviting atmosphere. It takes advance of the visual opportunities inherent in a commercial district by directing attention to all of its physical elements: public and private buildings, storefronts, signs, public spaces, landscaping, merchandising, displays and promotional materials. Its aim is to stress the importance of design quality in all of these areas, to educate people about design quality, and to expedite improvements.

Economic Vitality

Economic Vitality strengthens your community’s existing economic assets while diversifying its economic base. This is accomplished by retaining and expanding existing businesses to provide a balanced commercial mix, converting unused or underutilized space into productive property, sharpening the competitiveness and merchandising skill of business people, and attracting new businesses that the market can support.

Ten Standards of Performance

The standards of performance were developed by the National Main Street Center and our coordinating Main Street program partners. They are based on operational performance for a sustainable organization, not on economic performance. Any program affiliated with a coordinating Main Street program is eligible.

  1. Has broad-based community support for the commercial district revitalization process, with strong support from both the public and private sectors.
    At its best, a local Main Street program represents and involves organizations, agencies, businesses, and individuals from throughout the community — not just those who own property or businesses in the commercial district or who have a direct economic tie to it, but all members of the community who are interested in the district’s overall health. By actively involving a broad range of interests and perspectives from the public and private sectors in the revitalization process, the Main Street program leverages the community’s collective skills and resources to maximum advantage.
  2. Has developed vision and mission statements relevant to community conditions and to the local Main Street program’s organizational stage.
    A mission statement communicates the Main Street organization’s sense of purpose and overall direction. A vision statement communicates the organization’s long-term hopes and intentions for the commercial district. Both should be developed with broad participation by the board, committees, volunteers, and community input. At a minimum, the Main Street organization should have a mission statement in place, reviewed annually (and updated, if appropriate). If the organization does not have a vision statement at the beginning of the revitalization process, it should develop one prior to the organization’s transition from the catalyst phase to the growth phase.
  3. Has a comprehensive Main Street work plan.
    A comprehensive annual work plan provides a detailed blueprint for the Main Street program’s activities; reinforces the program’s accountability both within the organization and also in the broader community; and provides measurable objectives by which the program can track its progress.
  4. Possesses an historic preservation ethic.
    Historic preservation is central to the Main Street program’s purpose and is what makes historic and traditional commercial districts authentic places. Historic preservation involves saving, rehabilitating, and finding new uses for existing buildings, as well as
    intensifying the uses of the existing buildings, through building improvement projects and policy and regulatory changes that make it easier to develop property within the commercial district.
  5. Has an active board of directors and committees.
    Main Street revitalization by nature is a community-driven process. Therefore, community members must take an active role in leading and implementing positive change. While the executive director is responsible for facilitating the work of volunteers, this staff member is not tasked with single-handedly revitalizing the commercial district. The direct involvement of an active board of directors and committees are keys to success. If a Main Street organization is housed within another entity (e.g., a community development corporation), it is still important to have its own board of directors and committee structure.
  6. Has an adequate operating budget.
    A sustainable Main Street program has financial resources to carry out its annual and evolving program of work. The size of a program’s budget will change as the program matures (in its early years, it may need less money than in its growth years).
  7. Has a paid, professional executive director.
    Coordinating a Main Street program requires a trained, professional staff person. Ideally, the Main Street executive director’s position is full time (generally 40+ hours per week). In small towns without the resources to hire a full-time executive director, a part-time director may be acceptable (generally 20+ hours per week).
  8. Conducts program of ongoing training for staff and volunteers.
    As the Main Street program evolves, staff and volunteers will need to sharpen their skills to meet new challenges. In the catalyst phase, new staff and volunteers will need basic training. This is true as well as throughout the life of the organization because there will be turnover. As the program matures, new skills will need to be cultivated to tackle more complex projects. Program staff and volunteers should stay current on issues that affect traditional commercial districts and on new revitalization techniques and models.
  9. Reports key statistics.
    Tracking statistics — reinvestment, job and business creation, and so on — provides a tangible measurement of the local Main Street program’s progress and is crucial to garnering financial and programmatic support for the revitalization effort. Statistics must be collected on a regular, ongoing basis.
  10. Current member of the National Trust National Main Street Network.
    Participation in the National Trust Main Street Network membership program connects local programs to their counterparts throughout the nation.

Eight Guiding Principles

The National Main Street Center’s experience in helping communities bring their commercial corridors back to life has shown time and time again that the Main Street Four-Point Approach succeeds. That success is guided by the following eight principles, which set the Main Street methodology apart from other redevelopment strategies. For a Main Street program to be successful, it must wholeheartedly embrace the following time-tested eight principles.

  1. Comprehensive: No single focus — lavish public improvements, name-brand business recruitment, or endless promotional events — can revitalize Main Street. For successful, sustainable, long-term revitalization, a comprehensive approach, including activity in each of Main Street’s Four Points, is essential.
  2. Incremental: Baby steps come before walking. Successful revitalization programs begin with basic, simple activities that demonstrate that “new things are happening ” in the commercial district. As public confidence in the Main Street district grows and participants’ understanding of the revitalization process becomes more sophisticated, Main Street can tackle increasingly complex problems and more ambitious projects. This incremental change leads to much longer-lasting and dramatic positive change in the Main Street area.
  3. Self-help: No one else will save your Main Street. Local leaders must have the will and desire to mobilize local resources and talent. That means convincing residents and business owners of the rewards they’ll reap by investing time and money in Main Street the heart of their community. Only local leadership can produce long-term success by fostering and demonstrating community involvement and commitment to the revitalization effort.
  4. Partnerships: Both the public and private sectors have a vital interest in the district and must work together to achieve common goals of Main Street’s revitalization. Each sector has a role to play and each must understand the other’s strengths and limitations to forge an effective partnership.
  5. Identifying and capitalizing on existing assets: Business districts must capitalize on the assets that make them unique. Every district has unique qualities like distinctive buildings and human scale that give people a sense of belonging. These local assets must serve as the foundation for all aspects of the revitalization program.
  6. Quality: Emphasize quality in every aspect of the revitalization program. This applies to all elements of the process — from storefront designs to promotional campaigns to educational programs. Shoestring budgets and “cut and paste” efforts reinforce a negative image of the commercial district. Instead, concentrate on quality projects over quantity.
  7. Change: Skeptics turn into believers and attitudes on Main Street will turn around. At first, almost no one believes Main Street can really turn around. Changes in attitude and practice are slow but definite — public support for change will build as the Main Street program grows and consistently meets its goals. Change also means engaging in better business practices, altering ways of thinking, and improving the physical appearance of the commercial district. A carefully planned Main Street program will help shift public perceptions and practices to support and sustain the revitalization process.
  8. Implementation: To succeed, Main Street must show visible results that can only come from completing projects. Frequent, visible changes are a reminder that the revitalization effort is under way and succeeding. Small projects at the beginning of the program pave the way for larger ones as the revitalization effort matures, and that constant revitalization activity creates confidence in the Main Street program and ever- greater levels of participation.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Main Street America program?

The National Trust for Historic Preservation developed the Main Street program in the 1970s. The program has an innovative methodology that combines historic preservation with economic development to restore prosperity and vitality to downtown and neighborhood business districts. It is a comprehensive, self-help process and works in communities of all sizes and economic conditions.

The National Main Street Center has led the preservation-based revitalization movement by serving as the nation’s clearinghouse for information, technical assistance, research and advocacy. For more information, click here.

What is the Idaho Main Street program?

The Idaho Main Street program was launched in June 2012. The State of Idaho, through the Department of Commerce, will serve as the primary link to the National Trust Main Street Center by providing access to their resources; networking, advocacy, information and hands-on technical assistance and training on Main Street strategies. A statewide program means communities will have better access to local, state and federal agencies and organizations and programs that interface with the Main Street program.

How does the program work locally?

Main Street programs are locally driven, funded, organized and run. They are freestanding independent nonprofits or city agencies located in the community and affiliated with the statewide coordinating Main Street program. The statewide program will have an application process through which a community can be designated as a Main Street program. The state and National Main Street programs provide direct technical services, networking and training opportunities to their affiliated programs.

Who should be involved in the local Main Street program?

Everyone with a stake in the commercial district and its future should be involved. Merchants, property owners, the chamber of commerce, industries, local government and private citizens all benefit from a healthy local economy and from a historic core that reflects the community’s heritage and personality. It is important for both the public and private sectors to support the program financially, thereby demonstrating their commitment to its goals.

Who pays for the Main Street program? Is it a grant?

No. Financial support for the program comes from the local entities that have a stake in the downtown. This includes city government, merchants, businesses and the public. The success of the Main Street program over the years lies in the fact that it is a local initiative, organizationally and financially. When there is local buy-in, people care more about the success of the program and become more involved.

How long does a local Main Street program last?

Commercial revitalization is an ongoing process and because of this, is more likely to ensure economic success. Successful revitalization programs begin with basic, simple activities that demonstrate that “things are happening” in the commercial district. As public confidence in the Main Street district grows and participants’ understanding of the revitalization process becomes more sophisticated, more complex problems and ambitious projects can be tackled. Incremental change leads to much longer-lasting and dramatic positive change in the Main Street area.

What assistance is available to establish and manage a local Main Street program?

Assistance is available in the form of technical services, networking, training and information. The center can provide direct fee-for-service technical assistance to cities and towns, in conjunction with state and citywide Main Street programs. Statewide and citywide coordination programs also provide these types of assistance. Examples of training include developing vision and mission statements, comprehensive work plans, and board training.

Is joining the Main Street Network Program the same as becoming a Main Street organization?

No, although the terminology is similar, they are two different processes. The Center offers the National Main Street Network Membership as a service in order to provide information and benefits to any individual, agency, or organization interested in preservation-based commercial district revitalization. For an annual subscription of $350 members receive a monthly newsletter, access to member’s only information, and other benefits.

Being designated as a Main Street program by the Idaho Coordinating program is a completely different process, which requires an application to that coordinating organization. To call yourself a Main Street organization, you must be designated by the statewide program.

We are not ready to apply to our statewide Main Street program for designation. Is there anything else we can do?

Yes. For communities lacking the capacity to adopt the formal Main Street model, there is the Idaho Downtown Improvement Network (IDIN). IDIN is designed to help communities start the path to National Main Street recognition. Additionally, you can encourage local leaders, planning agencies, economic development agencies, city government, businesses and individuals to apply the Main Street approach to what they are doing now. Persuade them to view traditional commercial buildings as an asset to your community and to see the downtown or neighborhood commercial district as an area full of opportunity to renew your community’s sense of identity, history and place.

Apply for the Main Street Program

Would your downtown benefit from the Main Street program?