Dwarfed by the gym beside it, the size of the Main Street Hanford office gives a false impression of the amount of work this program does.
With only two full-time staff members, Main Street Hanford’s office is furnished with just two desks and a conference table. However, when it comes to projects, it is the program’s “heart” – its many volunteers – who get the job done.
“Our volunteers are anywhere from 18 to 80 years old,” said Shelly Johnson, executive director of Main Street Hanford for the last nine years. “You just have to have a heart for what we’re doing and we’ll find something for you to do.”
A heart for the revitalization of small towns is exactly what prompted Johnson to step into her current role. After retiring from a previous downtown revitalization program in Reedley, Johnson longed to do something similar. It wasn’t long before she found her way to Main Street Hanford.
Part of a national program of downtown revitalization called Main Street America, this program is a part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which is based in Washington. The sole purpose of the program is to preserve America’s historic places. Main Street America brings this broad concept close to home by helping to revitalize historic downtowns, while preserving the history that is responsible for making each community unique.
Main Street Hanford was formed 17 years ago when the community expressed a desire to once again make the downtown area a booming part of Hanford. Changing times have left the area with a sleepy feeling, but Johnson has seen the community’s desire to change that.
“People really want a night life,” Johnson said. “Microbreweries and restaurants and art and music.”
She compared the vision of Main Street Hanford to Downtown Visalia: something for everyone and never a dull moment.
However, Johnson intends to do this without removing any existing businesses.
“We want to strengthen existing businesses,” Johnson said. “We have a program that can help them fix up their storefronts and one to help them become ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliant.”
Based on Main Street Hanford’s most current mailing list, there are 320 businesses in the downtown area. The goal is to add to the existing businesses by filling the nearly 40 vacant storefronts. Johnson believes this will move downtown in the direction the community wants it to go.
Divine Creations is one of the new businesses in the downtown. It provides flower arrangements and event planning services. The owner, Maggie Zamora, is excited to work with Main Street Hanford. The programs it has in place have already helped her business thrive by making it visible to the community.
“They [Main Street Hanford] helped us get on the radio show KFUN,” Zamora said. “And they had us as a business during their St. Patrick’s Day event. Every time we post a picture they repost it. They’ve just been really helpful and really nice. They’ve really helped us in letting the community know we’re a new business and who we are and what we do.”
As far as fixing up storefronts, Main Street Hanford’s program will match 50 percent of funds needed for most any given project. For example, if a new sign will cost a business $2,000, the program can give the store $1,000, effectively cutting the cost in half.
Americans with Disabilities Act compliance is important for small businesses, especially those in older buildings that were established before the law was in effect. Main Street Hanford helps with the cost of making the necessary changes that an ADA compliance officer points out in these older buildings. A business has to pay for the compliance officer to check its space and submit the proof to Main Street Hanford – the organization takes it from there.
Michelle Brown started working for Main Street Hanford six months ago and loves her job. Born and raised in Hanford, she is excited about helping her town draw in more of an outside crowd.
“I love going to other cities and finding the heart of them – where the history is,” Brown said. “Sometimes it’s thriving and active and sometimes it’s just sad, forgotten.”
Brown has left Hanford before but says she always finds her way back. There is something about her hometown that keeps her here, and she hopes that more people will find the allure of it now that Main Street Hanford is in full swing and pushing towards a more vibrant downtown life.
If Main Street Hanford is successful in what’s it’s doing, someday other household names besides Superior Dairy may be associated with the community.