Main Street Program Q&A with Vickie Grinder, Economic Development Manager for the Town of Thurmont

Can you tell us about the Main Street Maryland Program and what it means to manage the Main Street in Thurmont?  What role and responsibilities do you have in your community?

As the Economic Development Manager for the Town of Thurmont, the Main Street Program is one of my job duties, and is very near and dear to my heart. In 2003, three volunteers’ set out to achieve the status for a Designated Main Street area in Thurmont. This designation would mean a buy in from the town and the state to enhance the aesthetics of the most historical part of any town. Preserving the history along with revitalizing historical buildings (that we see dissipating from towns everywhere) is critical especially with a changing economy. We saw this program as the catalyst for protecting this area.

Our partnership with the Department of Housing and Community Development (administers the State & National program) has proven to accomplish just that over the course of the last sixteen years. Those three volunteers in 2003 were John Kinnaird (now Mayor), myself who was not employed by the town, and (former) Commissioner Bill Blakeslee. We received our designation in 2005. My role today includes managing the events that are scheduled all throughout the year along with soliciting volunteers to assist with these events. I also work with property owners to assist in filling vacancies, state reporting, managing the Main Street façade grant program, and above all, emphasizing the historical importance of Main Street.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

That’s easy! Working with the business owners and their employees along with the awesome volunteers that it takes to organize and work our events! I think anyone involved in any type of downtown program will tell you – it’s one big family! These relationships have turned into friendships, and that is priceless!

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

One of my responsibilities as Economic Development Manager is working with all businesses in Thurmont and assisting them with whatever I can do to promote their business and focus on retention. Main Street can be much more challenging for retaining and recruiting new businesses. Thurmont has seen a culture change occurring over the last several years with storefront vacancies in the Main Street area occurring. This has never been a problem in the past, but I think many small towns are feeling the effects of online shopping, and retail becoming much more difficult to attract.

Our Main Street is becoming more service-oriented businesses filling the vacancies which in turn creates foot traffic. Online shopping continues to increase, but to obtain services you more than likely have to go to their location. So, my thought process is as these service-oriented businesses continue to move to Main Street, that means increased foot traffic which may evolve into attracting retail in the years to come. We live in the postindustrial revolution which sadly has created an era of convenience. I think small towns are in uncharted waters and will be much more challenged than larger cities in attracting retail establishments to the Main Street area.

What has been your biggest accomplishment?

The fact that the town of Thurmont has held the Designated Maryland Main Street and National Main Street status since 2005, and I was a part of that from the beginning on a volunteer basis. It takes many individuals and dedicated volunteers to make that happen! In addition to the revitalization and focusing on the historical value of Main Street, this designation brings grant funds into the community that assist in many aspects including street scape projects and funding that brings a quality of life and place to residents and to be a part of that does bring a smile!

What is the vibe of your Main Street?

Picturesque! Our Main Street sits at the foothills of the Catoctin Mountains, and wow, what a view standing on the corner of Main Street! To enhance that view, Thurmont has fairly new sidewalks, a brand-new paved street on East and West Main Street, lamp post adorning the designated area, wayfinding signs throughout the area, and so many other projects that gives you a warm feeling once you have arrived. Oh, how beautiful it is!

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

  1. The Thurmont Trolley Trail begins/ends on East Main Street and is a walkable/cyclable path to the Thurmont Regional Library.
  2. The largest vintage furniture store in Frederick County is located at 21 East Main Street. Timeless Trends Boutique has over 4,000 square feet of handmade and vintage furniture. What’s amazing is back in the day, that same building was a furniture store and a coffin maker. It still remains a furniture store!
  3. The first friction matches in the U.S. were manufactured in Thurmont by a blacksmith, Jacob Weller in 1825. The Match House (a private residence now) is on West Main Street.

What do you love to do for fun in Thurmont?

Visit the wineries and Yoga on Main at the Main Street Center! I think they go together nicely!

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

Thurmont is a Maryland Certified Sustainable Community and a Designated Sustainable Community under the Department of Housing and Community Development. That said, our entire Main Street area is a walkable community and thirty townhomes have been built within the last two years along the Thurmont Trolley Trail. My vision would be for more residents and visitors to explore and experience the beauty and the amenities such as the current retail outlets, restaurants and services that are available creating more foot traffic in the downtown area.

Oh, and did I say a brewery in the downtown? A brewery would be perfect for Main Street Thurmont and would be very fitting for an agriculture town with four wineries and three orchards! Of course, no empty storefronts are the number one goal of any town government or downtown association. Today we do our shopping in the palm of our hand or on a laptop, but we are optimistic for our tomorrow with all Thurmont has to offer!

Did I say how beautiful the downtown area was!