What’s the recipe for a thriving main street program in Louisiana?
Thibodaux Main Street Executive Director Danielle Stein says it’s the intersection between an economic development program and historic preservation.
These are the precise facets the team behind the organization has worked to emphasize within Historic Downtown Thibodaux as the area has transformed into a hub for shopping, dining, and festivals for people of all ages and interests over recent years.
“We do try to promote historic preservation…and we do try to promote the economic development aspect of a main street organization, providing small business support, helping them if they want to expand a business,” Stein says, “and just connecting them with resources, whether it’s in the community, statewide, nationally.”
Thibodaux Main Street, Inc., received its official designation as a Louisiana Main Street community in 2009, though it carries roughly 20 total years as a main street.
Today, the area serves as a hub for firms and agencies, fitness centers, food and drink spots geared toward both families and college students, boutiques, salons, and more.
There’s something for everyone amidst Historic Downtown Thibodaux’s blend of longstanding, “legacy businesses” and excited ventures from young entrepreneurs.
“We have a very diverse mix of business down here, and it keeps growing, and it’s unique businesses,” Stein says. “You can look at it and say, ‘Well, there’s five or six boutiques,’ but they all offer something different.”
Stein, who has served as executive director of Thibodaux Main Street for over four years, says that not being a native of Thibodaux has helped her view the city’s historic downtown area through fresh eyes. From that perspective, she sees an area rich in history and culture that deserves to be appreciated by the people around it.
“I’ve always seen this quaint gem in Thibodaux, and to be able to express that either through social media or our events and help people to understand what they truly have here and appreciate it – that’s been great,” Stein says. “Making them aware of all the historic buildings down here, and just how cool it is to still have all these really cool buildings around.”
Coexisting with the area’s businesses is its vibrant arts and festival culture, highlighted by events like the Fall and Spring Arts Walks, Big Boy’s Main Street Cook-Off, and Storywalk.
Stein says the key to cooperation between events and establishments in Historic Downtown Thibodaux is communication, tangibly enabled by a private Facebook group that merchants use to share information, exchange ideas, and plan for upcoming seasons.
“It’s just keeping that line of communication open so that way we know how we can work with each other,” Stein says.
Thibodaux Main Street also actively encourages its establishments to recognize the value of a wide selection of offerings and how that selection benefits the area as a whole, and Stein says merchants adopt this concept well.
“Like I said earlier, we have a number of boutiques, but that only increases the likelihood that someone will come down here. If you have options someplace, you’re more likely to go there as opposed to one shopping center that has one retail outlet and one restaurant, so the more variety we have, the more enticing it is for people to come down here.”
This culture created among Thibodaux Main street merchants allowed them to easily adapt to unexpected business shake-ups over the last few years in the wake of Hurricane Ida and the COVID-19 pandemic, Stein says.
She notes that a benefit of being a small business is an easier ability to change one’s operations than a large corporation, and that’s precisely what business in Historic Downtown Thibodaux did almost instantly as COVID-19 reached the Bayou Region.
“Overnight, we saw the retailers and the restaurants going to curbside pickup, or partnering with another Downtown business,” she says. “We saw Pepper’s partner with the Purple Penguin and they were offering pizza and paint [kits]…Some of our retailers, if they didn’t already have some type of e-commerce component, they started to implement that, or even just doing Facebook lives to push products.”
Today, advancements like curbside pickup that arose during COVID-19 have remained regular aspects of establishments’ operations, allowing businesses in Historic Downtown Thibodaux to continue to better accommodate their customers, Stein says.
The aftermath of Ida has posed ongoing challenges for the area, which still requires building repairs.
However, Thibodaux Main Street has used the experience to encourage its merchants to develop hurricane preparedness plans as the 2022 season begins.
“We posted some information…about [getting] your game plan now, and reflect on, what were the challenges you saw from Ida?” Stein says. “Address them now. Talk to your property owner now…When it comes time to it, who’s responsibility is it to tarp the roof, board up the windows, just so you know ahead of time.”
As Thibodaux Main Street continues to grow, new and exciting partnerships have become a valuable piece of its story.
For example, the organization has partnered with Friends of Bayou Lafourche for the development of a multi-use trailhead along Highway 1 that will bring a boardwalk, bike racks, a floating dock, benches, paddle boat access, and more to the Historic Downtown Thibodaux area.
Recently, Thibodaux Main Street also announced a partnership with Nicholls State University on the university’s Bayou Region Incubator, which serves to establish businesses and economies that focus on Louisiana’s coastal crisis.
Stein says that Thibodaux Main Street has actively worked to maintain a strong relationship with Nicholls, drawing off of the success of college towns like Ruston and Hammond that are closely intertwined with their downtown areas.
“To me, partnerships are everything…We all have the common goal of making Thibodaux better, so why would we not work together?” Stein says. “A community that has a university and a thriving downtown, they’re so successful…That’s something that we’ve tried to develop.”
As Thibodaux Main Street moves forward into a post-Ida and post-pandemic future, it’s always looking for new ways to bring diverse new businesses to Historic Downtown Thibodaux and to support its merchants.
Most recently, the organization opened up a grant through the Louisiana Main Street Restoration Grant program to promote growth and tourism for businesses operating out of historic buildings in the Downtown area.
At the core of Thibodaux Main Street’s ongoing success lies a willingness among its patrons and small business owners to continue to see each other as a unit and not as competition.
“We all know that the more that we work together – I mean, we’re kind of like a family, we’re like a neighborhood around here – the more we work together, the better it is for all of us collectively,” Stein says. “I think when you offer them the opportunity to connect with one another, and we’ve tried to develop that over the years, [it’s] how they can work together to help each other out and to make Downtown as a whole better.”