ELKTON — Decades ago, hundreds of shoppers crowded sidewalks as lines of vehicles packed the narrow intersection of North and Main in Downtown Elkton, bracing for a vibrant nightlife that thrives off of a movie theater, an assortment of restaurants and an abundance of stores. Today, North and Main is a far cry from the area that once served as the business district of Cecil County in the mid-twentieth century.
While the same “small-town main street” feel still prospers, the foot traffic of the downtown area has witnessed a decline – a lost trait that Elkton officials say is only temporary.
“There is a transition happening,” said the President of the Elkton Alliance Board of Directors, Danielle Carroll. “It’s not a success/failure, it is more of a change in what our downtown looks like and the opportunity for what it could grow into.”
The Elkton Alliance, formerly known as the Elkton Chamber and Alliance, is a 501c(3) nonprofit organization whose purpose is the revitalization Downtown Elkton. The current focus of the Alliance is attracting small businesses through the Alliance’s branding and messaging.
“We are working on what our mission and branding are which will help with recruiting businesses into the town,” said Carroll. “Our Main Street is going to re-build in the sense of what our residents need.”
Carroll referred to Elkton as a “five minute bubble,” explaining that she can get whatever she needs within five minutes of traveling – thus her question is: how can the alliance elevate and expand upon that?
To start, Carroll said that having a variety of businesses is the goal, but art is key to drawing people into the town to ensure the businesses thrive.
“Art is not just what we put on paper, it’s more,” said Carroll. “It is about creating a beautiful community and atmosphere through signage, gardens, murals, and even lighting to create a place people want to be.”
Downtown Elkton is a designated State of Maryland arts and entertainment district, which expands grant and business incentive opportunities within the downtown area.
“I believe our downtown is going to be ‘the arts are alive’ and things that you can’t purchase online and that is our vision and I think we can get there,” said Elkton Mayor Robert Alt.
Establishing an inviting community through art and building an authentic main street community is something the Alliance says can be accomplished in unison, as their vision for Downtown Elkton is to please both the new and old generations.
The Executive Director of the Elkton Alliance, Alicia Calhoun, said achieving a five minute bubble that offers more goods and services will require building backward to stick with the times.
“It speaks to the new generation and the older generation,” said Calhoun. “The older generation wants to see the hometown feel come back while the new generation is coming in and saying ‘this is where I want to be’ because they can build relationships while supporting where they live.”
Both Calhoun and Carroll agree that the “buy local movement” is a highly attractive amenity to future generations.
“It is not a competition anymore,” said Calhoun. “It is collaborating and giving both generations what they are looking for.”
The majority of Downtown Elkton is a designated opportunity zone. Opportunity zones are designated by the State of Maryland as areas offering an abundance of incentives for private and long-term investments.
“If you want to start a business, the best thing to do is call the Alliance and find out more information, because we can apply for grants on behalf of business owners as well as help businesses understand what incentives they may be eligible for,” said Carroll.
Incentives like low interest rate small business loans, grants for startups, operating grants and even rental assistance are only a few of the many incentives offered by the state and county to businesses in opportunity zones.
“Development comes down to knowing our business owners and our building owners and partnering with the county and state’s economic development to allow for collaboration,” said Carroll.
Main Street Elkton is already home to a number of small businesses, which Alt believes is a great foundation for the town to build off of and expand upon.
“We have a great start on businesses and restaurants and retail,” said Alt. “I’d love to see a few restaurants, more music and to see the town vibrant until 10 o’clock at night.”
With Downtown Elkton being home to endless opportunities through its arts district and opportunity zone designation, the Elkton Alliance is encouraging everyone to visit their website and Facebook page to stay up to date with news, events and projects coming to Elkton.
“This transition is like one big ‘coming soon’ sign,” said Carroll. “We are moving into the next chapter and we are excited about it.”
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