Sitting on a crescent moon-shaped granite bench in front of the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, Maine, I was taking in the bubbling downtown when a man with a clipboard approached me.
“Can I ask you a few questions?” he asked. “I don’t live here,” I said, thinking his survey probably required me to be a locally registered voter.
But it turned out that he was even happier that I was a visitor. He was gathering information for the local Main Street program undefined the same National Trust for Historic Preservation downtown revitalization initiative that Norwich’s now-defunct Rose City Renaissance was part of.
He wanted to know what I thought about downtown Rockland. I told him I just happened to be sitting there jotting down notes for this column, reflecting on the downtown and what made it tick.
Rockland’s Main Street program’s slogan is “Salty Sophistication.”
That makes sense. As for salty, the 65th annual Maine Lobster Festival just ended, and the 10th annual Boats, Homes and Harbor show was just beginning.
As for sophistication, there’s the Farnsworth, with its large collection of Maine-inspired paintings by the first family of American art, the Wyeths, and galleries everywhere you look.
Cafés, galleries and shops offer all those things you don’t really need undefined or look at, except when you’re on vacation. Craft and toy stores occupy the street-level storefronts. There’s even a two-screen movie theatre in a building no bigger than a good-sized shop.
Besides what looked like 100 percent occupancy, and many people on the sidewalks, what struck me was the impression that conscious choices had been made. Clearly, the town undefined and those working to improve the downtown undefined chose to capitalize on Rockland’s artistic and nautical heritage.
“Salty Sophistication” perfectly captured it.
The lesson here is clear. Define the city’s greatest strengths undefined Revolutionary War-era history, for example undefined and create a theme around, say, its greatest hero undefined Samuel Huntington, signer of the Declaration of Independence undefined and its greatest villain undefined Benedict Arnold. Encourage local entrepreneurs to capitalize on the theme in shops, tours, postcards and T-shirts, and hire a good public relations consultant to promote it.
Instead of living off the vanishing vapors of what used to be, how about we try something new and different: learning from and applying what others have already proved will work?
John-Manuel Andriote, of Norwich, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.