Main Street Program Q&A with Kara Norman, Executive Director of Downtown Frederick Partnership

Can you tell us about the Main Street Program and what it means to manage the Main Street in Frederick?  

The National Trust for Historic Preservation created the National Main Street Program about 40 years ago.  Not surprisingly, the National Trust likes old buildings, wanting to see them preserved for future generations.  The Main Street Program is built on the premise that making downtowns active is better for historic buildings.  If you are living, working or playing in a historic building, it is much more likely that the historic building will be maintained.  The Main Street Program, now managed by a standalone national nonprofit - the National Main Street Center, has several key principles.  The three principles that resonate with me the most are 1) comprehensive, 2) incremental and 3) community driven. 

In Downtown Frederick, the Partnership implements a comprehensive approach with projects focused on urban planning policies, business development, business training, events, marketing, streetscape improvements and more.  The Partnership certainly has seen the benefit of incremental efforts. In our nearly 30 years, the Partnership has continued to move projects forward, resulting in lasting positive change.  The Partnership's work also is fully rooted in the community - both in terms of the ideas we implement as well as in the assets we celebrate.  Downtown Frederick should be Downtown Frederick - while we can learn from other places, we need to focus on celebrating our community's character and strengths.  

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

The opportunity to work with so many great people who are personally, professionally and/or financially invested in Downtown Frederick.  

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Keeping all of the various balls in the air. I have given up on counting how many projects are going at any one time.  

What has been your biggest accomplishment?

The Partnership has continued to grow and adapt to change.  Less than 20 years ago, the organization had one full time staff member and a budget of about $100,000.  Today, the organization has four full time staff and a budget of about S1.3 million, representing a growth in programming and partnerships to improve Downtown Frederick.  

What is the vibe of your Main Street?

Downtown Frederick is:

A shopping and dining destination (285! small retail/food businesses, 99% independently owned)

Beautiful (historic architecture, public art, tree lined streets and so much more)

Friendly (for people and dogs too)

Walkable (a great place to meander and see what you can find)

What are two things that you think people should know about your Main Street but probably don’t?

My list applies to most Main Streets but certainly are things I think we all can easily take for granted.

  1. Being an independent retailer is hard work.  Small staffs, long hours, standing on your feet all day, being in the store or on call nearly every day of the year, balancing looking ahead with day to day management, weather, weather, weather.. Retailers make a big investment - both personal and financial - in their businesses. 
  2. Where we spend our money really does matter. According to the American Independent Business Alliance, on average, 48 percent of each purchase at local independent businesses was recirculated locally, compared to less than 14 percent of purchases at chain stores.  

What do you love to do for fun in Frederick?

My family and I eat out in Downtown Frederick A LOT which we always love. As we head into the holiday season, I'm looking forward to the day I take each year to complete my shopping downtown.  My daughter might just be old enough this year to join me for the entire day of shopping. What could be better than finding the perfect gifts for people I care about most in a downtown I love.  

What is your vision for the future of your Main Street?

The Partnership created a strategic plan that guides the organization's work through 2020. The 2020 Strategic Plan was created over the course of about six months and included many conversations with stakeholders, partners, business owners and residents. The vision in this document focuses on welcoming more people to live in Downtown Frederick, retaining government and growing our workforce, attracting a downtown hotel, creating more seasonal attractions and building stronger connections within Downtown Frederick. As this plan time frame is drawing to a close, the Partnership is at work on an effort to develop a 2025 Downtown Frederick Strategic Plan that will focus both on the Partnership as an organization as well as goals for Downtown Frederick overall.  

Read more about Downtown Frederick Partnership at