Main Street Gettysburg (MSG) success has been illustrated over the past several years through increased community support. Community involvement in the Baltimore Street Revitalization project, the Long, Long, Long, Long Dinner, the Steinwehr Avenue Business Improvement District, and the 2019 “A Gettysburg Christmas Festival” made it possible for MSG to enter 2020 in a strong financial position. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic blind-sided all of us and threatened not only our physical health, but our town’s economic health. It was “community focused agility,” creativity, and leadership, along with many governmental partnerships, that allowed MSG to serve our businesses and navigate 2020 successfully during this crisis.
“Community Focused Agility” is the ability to react quickly in response to an unforeseen situation changing community needs. The COVID shut-down in March 2020 changed everything. Through communicating with local business owners, MSG quickly learned our community was in crisis. Businesses were closed and their future unknown. MSG had to pivot from their original 2020 plan providing essential information, PPE, and financial help to the community ASAP. The Main Street Gettysburg Cares Program was created within four weeks of the shut down. Charles Gable and MSG worked together to create a pandemic emergency team to provide weekly reports for the community on Adams County Media. Additionally, MSG researched COVID developments daily and attended webinars sharing financial resources for small businesses. This is information that would be sent out immediately. The Borough then used MSG’s Zero Interest Loan Program model to quickly create a COVID-specific zero interest loan as part of MSG Cares. MSG volunteers would make sanitizer in the Borough cafeteria, Martha Tozzi created a 1000 mask brigade, and Timbrel Wallace made CDC required posters and social distancing signs – resources all 100% free to our businesses. 126 businesses signed up for these free services.
Creativity became the foundation for success. As MSG continued to reach out to businesses, it was evident that those who developed creative ways to work around the crisis were doing better. MSG’s creativity came from its army of volunteers and the Borough staff. For example, Wendy Allen’s MSG Cares video was shown nationally promoting the town and our community’s hard work to stay safe. Timbrel Wallace and family made and distributed “Shop Gettysburg First” buttons to promote keeping our downtown alive while Dru Neil and Annie Frazee created a social media campaign with the same message. This inspired GettysburgPro.com, a free website providing links to all the businesses in Gettysburg, created by Annie Frazee.
“A Gettysburg Christmas Festival hosts: A Season of Wishes 2020” was MSG’s creative answer for a “COVID Safe Holiday Season”. Since 2014, MSG has been investing lots of time, resources and sponsorships in developing a successful holiday experience for Gettysburg. This ongoing endeavor became a three-day festival in 2019 that brought in an estimated 20,000 visitors, increased parking revenues that contributed to the municipal coffers, significantly increased sales throughout town, and raised $90,000 in sponsorships. It benefitted at least 25 local non-profits and involved more than 100 local volunteers. It truly united the community and was a festival that will go down in Gettysburg’s history. Thanks to the investment of time, funding and hard work, this festival has become an MSG brand and legacy the organization is very proud to have created.
COVID limited volunteers and sponsorships in 2020, which required us to reinvent the festival. “Season of Wishes” created a special “Hallmark” card-type safe experience in downtown Gettysburg. Martha Tozzi and her volunteer team of elves used their imaginations and created countless new projects including Seek-and-Find Window Painting, Wishing Wells and Window of Wishes, Memory Stops, the Steinwehr Avenue of Trees, and Pathway of Stars. Kelly Lynch and Becca Fissel created “A Gettysburg Christmas Festival of Lights.” MSG is lucky to have had their creativity and support to make such a happy holiday possible.
The Future – Creating the new Gettysburg leadership team
Leadership in Gettysburg is currently undergoing a dramatic change with many retirements in key organizations. The Gettysburg National Park, Gettysburg College, Gettysburg Foundation, Destination Gettysburg, Adams County Arts Council, and Main Street Gettysburg are just a few undergoing leadership changes. In June 2020, MSG invited a small group of these new leaders to discuss life “post COVID” and the future of Gettysburg. This brief 1 ½ hour strategic discussion produced an outline of major opportunities and challenges for the future leadership of this community to address. At the top of the list was the importance for a unified Gettysburg approach. For many years, MSG has been referred to as “a catalyst,” “a shepherd,” and “a facilitator” of progress for our community. It is my hope that MSG continues to be the organization that offers the leadership that nurtures this team approach for the betterment of Gettysburg’s future.