McMinnville: Proud to Be America’s Favorite Main Street… (West of the Mississippi)

By Nathan Knottingham

I am not sure about the rest of you, but the initial awakening that we were even in a running for America’s Favorite Main Street hosted by Parade Magazine came as an early Sunday morning email June 29 from Toni Chodrick.  Having no idea what it meant, or how big it really was, I almost dismissed it.  That is until MDA Director Cassie Sollars responded with enthusiasm and encouragement.  With a little Facebook/Twitter push, the word got out and it took off!  Now I find myself reflecting on the entire experience and want to share an important point.

Once the finalists were announce I reached out to the Collierville Chamber of Commerce.  Their CEO is Fran Persechini and she really is the sweetest person to talk to, the kind of person that makes you feel as if you have known them your whole life.  We compared notes, as Chambers do, about size of the community, business health, industry, tourism, excitement of the contest, etc.  We are similar in membership size, focus of work, and even struggles.  However, what we both found intriguing was that something rather uniquely similar was in our communities (maybe it is the ever-elusive X-Factor for community development and historical preservation); we both have very strong, stable, and cooperative Downtown Associations.

I started thinking about how many potential candidates for a “Main Street Award” there must be in America.  A quick dive into 2010 Census numbers gave me a very conservative number of how many towns there were with a population over 50,000 and the number was roughly 19,500.  An atlas maker proudly exclaimed locations of 35,000 towns and municipalities.  That is incredible to think that if even half of those towns had Main Streets and McMinnville, OR made it on to a contest in Parade Magazine.  While some bemoan that we “got second place” I cannot believe how lucky we were to even place at all!  Second place is really first in the fact that the mighty Mississippi and 2,312 miles (from Chamber office to Chamber office) separate us.

Being a finalist in this contest is really an amazing honor.  When I talked to Cassie about how excited they must be for this recognition she was quick to point out that this is a community honor.  This is not a recognition that belongs solely to the MDA, but to the community of McMinnville as a whole.  She is right, but for one small detail, without the events that lead to the creation of our McMinnville Downtown Association we would not have a dedicated manager of our historic downtown that helps shape it into what people come to visit so regularly.   Having a Downtown Association that focuses on their core work and willing to collaborate with partners on so many levels makes a huge difference for work we can accomplish as a city.  It is why I believe we have been successful in blending the tourism, the history, and the culture of our town into what it is today.  I do not pretend to gloss over the struggles, disagreements, and challenges that have been faced by the different organizations; but just like any family these things will happen and it is the dedication of all to stay together and become stronger that makes a lasting legacy.

I challenge McMinnville, OR not to let the pride we felt while voting and spreading the word to vote wane as the flash of the results dim in our memory.  In truth we have even more to be proud of than before.  For all the magazine articles that feature us, businesses identified for being top in their craft, and tourists rave about visiting our beautiful area we now have a recognition that would not have happened without this community.  We got the word out and we shouted from our media mountaintops that it was time to vote; we cheered and waited past 9 pm each night to get the final vote tallied.  We should all be proud of what this recognition means and not forget that it took a little bit of everyone to get the nation’s attention and it will take a little bit from everyone to keep that pride alive.