Updated: Feb 7
In the category of ORGANIZATION, Best Economic Recovery Initiative, an Award of Merit is presented to: Mount Airy Downtown, Inc., the City of Mount Airy, and the Committee of Friends and Family of Melva Houston for Market Street Arts & Entertainment District.
Mount Airy Downtown, Incorporated, began planning the Market Street Arts and Entertainment District in May 2020 as an Economic Recovery and Community Culture Building Initiative. The goal was to grow an active neighborhood with additional space for citizens to use comfortably and safely. Mount Airy has many wonderful parks but lacked a large downtown civic space. Market Street, located a block off Main Street, is home to two breweries, a restaurant, several shops, and a yoga studio, and has more than 120 housing units nearby. This once barren side street is now a neighborhood hub of activity. City Council approved the Market Street Arts and Entertainment District proposal and ordinance in September 2020. On weekends, the street is open to pedestrians only. Local artists demonstrate and sell work while patrons shop and enjoy a rotation of regional food trucks and takeout from downtown restaurants. Open containers from the breweries and outdoor dining are allowed. The yoga studio offers outdoor sessions in the street on weekends. On Friday evenings, there is live music in “Melva’s Alley,” which will become a permanent performance space dedicated to the late jazz and blues musician, Melva Houston. “Music for Melva” nights raised over $15,000 for the alley project to be completed in Spring 2021. Volunteers painted colorful crosswalks to define the district and several murals and public art works have been created. The space not only puts the pedestrian first, but also crafts a more inclusive, healthy, and colorful neighborhood downtown. The District supports local businesses and artists by extending their footprint while cultivating community pride in an arts space they are building together.
The project began as part of the 2020 – 2021 Mount Airy Downtown, Incorporated, Work Implementation Plan. It enhances the vision statement for downtown to be the center of urban living, the hub of arts, music, culinary experiences, and entertainment in the foothills, to have the largest collection of unique small businesses, and to be the center of economic development in the county.
A $3,000 investment, which paid for plantings, painted crosswalks, outdoor seating, and branding materials, has had a big impact. Businesses on Market Street reported a 30% increase in retail sales over the same period a year earlier, and the breweries reported a 42% sales increase after the creation of the district versus prior to the initiative. And participating artists have been successful in building their businesses through weekend art sales which have generated community interest in having more public art projects downtown.