By editorial board • 

Buy-in critical to successful recovery efforts downtown

The announced closure of JC Penney in McMinnville led to a wave of nostalgia. And not just for the local Penney’s operation itself — which spent 75 years of its 100-year run downtown — but also for all the Main Streets of past generations, before corporate retailers abandoned downtowns for sprawling malls. 

That migration led to high vacancy rates in most downtowns across America. How well those business districts recovered varies, though McMinnville’s has long been regarded as a success story. 

Now, all communities face a major new challenge — helping downtowns survive both a recession and a pandemic, not to mention burgeoning online competition.

Preventing closures on a large scale will take creativity. So will meeting the requirements of clients safely during a COVID-19 outbreak. But McMinnville, for one, is moving quickly and appropriately.

The McMinnville Downtown Association will soon begin closing Third Street to cars on the weekends, allowing restaurant service in the streets. The move will also include more walking room, serving to accommodate larger crowds while still maintaining social distancing. 

We foresee this being a big hit, and applaud the MDA and the city for the move. But, it won’t be a cure for all that ails local brick and mortar retailing. 

It’s impossible to envision a total reprieve from the spread of COVID-19 this summer.

The curve has flattened, and all businesses are now open under state guidelines. But the risk remains for those more susceptible to severe illness.

Clearly, the demand for safe shopping and dining will play a major role in economic vitality in our downtowns. Again, the MDA and local partners are moving swiftly.

With support the city’s Urban Renewal Agency, the MDA is seeking grant money to help launch a $50,000 program to place and manage sanitation stations throughout downtown. In addition, 28,000 masks would be ordered for distribution to customers, and other safety precautions put in place. 

The new-look street closure and safety precaution combination can be marketed to attract much-needed tourist traffic. But that will take compliance from locals as well.

Adhering to safety precautions, including wearing a mask, is not just a health issue. When it comes to our locally owned downtown businesses, it’s also an economic issue. The safer the business district, the more revenue it will produce.

Even if you think wearing a mask is a bunch of malarkey, recognize that many others harbor a vastly different opinion, and not wearing a mask may deny a local retailer or restaurateur some business. 

The News-Register regularly preaches the benefits of shopping local. Obviously, those messages are more urgent than ever today.

According to a report from Main Street America, approximately 25% of America’s 30 million small businesses may be at risk of closing by the end of the year. 

In 2012, News-Register columnist Elaine Rohse admitted to bouts of homesicknesses for the “Old McMinnville,” when the Safeways and Penneys of the world were integrated into the heart of the community. The antidote, she wrote, was a simple stroll down Third Street to see how well it has matured. 

A generation of economic progress in downtown McMinnville is at risk. Officials are doing their part to move forward successfully. We hope local residents will do theirs as well. 

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