ROCKLAND, Maine — When it comes to growing a downtown, it takes a village. Or at least that’s the ethos of Rockland Main Street Inc., a nonprofit that’s been working with community stakeholders to bolster the city’s downtown for the last decade.
The group has received accolades from city officials for its work and the groups’ executive director was named the “2019 community person of the year” by the local chamber of commerce.
But those involved with the group are quick to say they’re just one part of a large group of people who have been working hard to build on the revitalization that the city has been experiencing over the past 20 years.
“It’s an equal part residents, businesses and local government working to create that sense of place,” Rockland Main Street Inc. Executive Director Gordon Page said. “We as a group want to keep that revitalization vibe going.”
Rockland Main Street Inc. is, at its core, a facilitator. The group works with business owners, city officials and other community groups on beautification projects, events and overall economic development.
The group is one of 10 Main Street Maine communities, which is a program of the National Main Street Center run at the state level by the Maine Downtown Center.
Rockland Main Street Inc. became an accredited group in 2009. The group’s tagline, “Salty Sophistication,” is a nod to the city’s history as a working-class fishing town as well as its recent foray into an arts and culture destination.
“We’re dedicated to both historic preservation and community revitalization, and looking at ways we can incorporate the community into enjoying their downtown,” Rockland Main Street Inc. Board of Directors Chair Jake Miller said.
While Rockland has experienced its recent growth without an official city planner, it’s groups like Rockland Main Street that have helped move the city forward.
“For the way in which Main Street has become such a destination, I think everyone plays a role in that, but no one less, and certainly [Rockland Main Street] more than most,” City Councilor Valli Geiger said last week in recognition of the group’s 10th anniversary.
Rockland Main Street Inc. coordinates numerous celebrations throughout the year, including the Summer Solstice street and dock party, as well as the upcoming Festival of Lights, which features a parade with floats plastered in twinkling lights, the Lobster Trap Tree and other holiday-themed events.
Last year, Rockland Main Street Inc. partnered with the city’s public works department to adorn Main Street’s trees with lights throughout the holiday season. The decorations will return this season.
Throughout the years, Rockland Main Street Inc. has brought more than 20 bike racks downtown and facilitated installations of lobster-trap wire flower boxes in city parks with a local gardening group.
While beautification projects might seem trivial to some, Page says gestures such as flower boxes and lighting up Main Street for the holidays helps make Rockland a desirable place to live and visit.
“If you do that enough times in different parts of the city, people start to sit up and take notice. Eventually some of that will be taken for granted. People might drive by and not even notice. But people coming into town for the first time will look at it and say that’s a nice beautification project,” Page said.
Behind the scenes, the group serves as a “dot connector” for downtown businesses, Page said, whether the business is currently located there and looking to solve a problem, or if an out-of-town business is looking to relocate to Rockland and has questions.
City Councilor Ben Dorr said the group was a huge help when he and his partner opened the clothing store Curator on Main Street.
“To be able to have a place to go that immediately makes you feel at home in a business community, having that landing place as a new business, is a real asset and a real treasure, instead of having to go from place to place and have to find a way to fit in,” Dorr said.
Page came to Rockland in 1982 to take a job at the National Sea Products plant. While the plant closed in 1990, Page stuck around because he saw something in the city that not everyone saw at that point — potential.
Page has been Rockland Main Street Inc.’s director for the past five years, and he is set to retire in January. While the city has undoubtedly harnessed the potential that he saw 30 years ago, Page still thinks the city has plenty of room to grow.
“We’re not there yet. [Downtown growth] is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s trite to say that; everyone says that. But the race to perfection should never end,” Page said. “We’re still on an upward trajectory.”