Frankfort Main Street is essential to small business recovery


Downtown Frankfort is one of a kind. It’s a place where people have gone all out for the annual hot dog festival for the past 25 years. It’s a place where multiple generations have enjoyed a courthouse square surrounded by historic structures like “Old Stoney,” the 122-year-old landmark that once served as the city’s high school. And it’s a place where unique small businesses thrive—in the case of Ellis Jewelers, for more than 100 years.

This beloved gathering place has been tested by the pandemic, which hit the local economy and its small businesses hard. Yet the city’s character and community shone through, as Frankfort Main Street rallied to help the downtown survive. Formed in 1986, the nonprofit group has always supported Frankfort’s downtown small businesses through events, workshops, and grants, among other programs. Today, it’s assistance has become more important than ever.

As the city’s small businesses deal with shutdowns and economic contraction, Frankfort Main Street has helped them find grants and navigate the application process. That included processing and administering the city’s forgivable loan program for small businesses impacted by the pandemic, which assisted 20 small businesses and disbursed $40,000 in total. Frankfort Main Street has also provided regular training to help local businesses create back-to-work plans and rethink their offerings in light of the pandemic.

As a trusted local partner, Frankfort Main Street has also activated the community support networks—including city and county officials, local Small Business Administration lenders, and Clinton County Health Department representatives—who have connected with small businesses weekly to answer their questions and guide their strategy as the pandemic unfolds. In an average week during the height of the pandemic, Frankfort Main Street helped connect more than 30 Clinton County small businesses with local stakeholders and with one another to share ideas.

Throughout the crisis, Frankfort Main Street has been a lifeline to the city’s small businesses. And that’s no surprise to anyone who is familiar with the nationwide Main Street America network and the Main Street approach, which empowers communities to transform their economies, leverage local leadership, and improve overall quality of life. Main Street programs like Frankfort’s are vital to their communities—now more than ever.

While Frankfort Main Street has been a critical support system for local businesses, the city’s downtown is still at risk. State and local elected officials are the next—and last—line of defense in protecting Frankfort’s small businesses, the people they employ, and the community’s historic downtown. Dire unemployment figures suggest that many people simply won't have the spending power they did before the crisis. Residual concerns regarding coronavirus transmission are also likely to slow the rebound of restaurants, retail stores and service businesses.

In future budget negotiations, lawmakers must recognize that recovery depends on Frankfort Main Street and the small businesses it supports. Cutting funding for such programs would be a grave mistake, resulting in lost jobs and reductions to state and local revenue. Before and during the pandemic, Frankfort Main Street has proven itself to be an essential partner to downtown businesses—and those small businesses are essential to recovery.


Patrice Frey

President and CEO, Main Street America