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New Main Street Elizabethton program gets off to difficult but fast start

John Thompson • May 29, 2020 at 7:55 AM

ELIZABETHTON — When Courtney Washburn took the post as the first director of the new Main Street Program for downtown Elizabethton back in October, she likely didn’t expect to be helping downtown businesses during a worldwide economic downturn.

But that became a part of her job when the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) led health and government officials to institute social distancing requirements and restrict how many people could be inside a store or restaurant at any one time. Business activity fell to levels not seen in a generation.

From the start, Washburn has been working with downtown businesses and Elizabethton’s city government to provide assistance. One project city officials quickly approved was creating curbside parking spaces so restaurants could provide drive-up service for meals when patrons were not able to go inside.

Washburn also made sure merchants were aware of programs designed to help businesses during the COVID-19 downturn.

While federal and state programs have been publicized, Washburn is currently making sure merchants are aware of some regional and local assistance that’s been set up.

The one that Washburn mentioned first is Region AHEAD, which stands for Appalachian Highlands Economic Aid Directory. According to the organization’s website — regionahead.com — it was set up to give small businesses and communities a place to network and learn how to support one another during a time when businesses are encountering unprecedented economic challenges.

Region AHEAD includes a list of small businesses that can use some support from the region.

Washburn said even small amounts from generous members of the public can help keep the economy afloat. Small-business owners can also add their business to the list of needs, and can also use the list to let concerned people in the region know that their business is open and also let them know about any specials being offered, or any other news the business would like to share with the region.

There’s also a Local Business Recovery Fund portal on the webpage. Businesses can make application for assistance from the fund, while another button can be used to allow donors in the region to make contributions to the fund.

There is also a community resources page that includes information for businesses in need of financial support, online guidance, and resources such as hand sanitizer and food.

Main Street Elizabethton was also involved in a more local fundraiser.

The organization joined forces with Vault Limited silkscreen printer to produce a T-shirt with “Support Local” printed on them. Half of all the proceeds went to Main Street Elizabethton to support downtown businesses.

The shirts are available at https://vaultlimited.com/?fbclid=IwAR0HE9pneiSE6u7lM2IOYXoadiFrVqjKMsXc26h9k9nbnzjJ5IReLqUdzg.

Washburn said local businesses have also developed ways to help their fellow businesses.

She said Carter County Bank’s Downtown Dine Around Giveaway is one example. She said the bank has begun giving away three gift cards a week which are good for $20 each at downtown restaurants. The cards are given away at random and the details are on the bank’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/cartercountybank.

The efforts seem to have worked, with a perfect record so far for downtown businesses: None have gone out of business because of the economic impact of COVID-19.