Avatar photo by Jessica Buchholz, Events Coordinator | April 12, 2021
Emporia IG

CHICAGO (April 2021) – Emporia Main Street in Emporia, Kansas, is one of six winners of the Main Street Forward Awards, which recognize communities that have shown exemplary recovery and resilience efforts amid the multiple crises of 2020. Selected by a national jury of economic development experts, Emporia Main Street (EMS) is being honored for its multipronged pandemic response, which included significant relief funding, small business support, and even a pen pal program for residents of local senior living facilities.
“EMS stepped up with an entrepreneurial spirit to meet the challenges of the pandemic on multiple fronts,” said Main Street America’s President and CEO Patrice Frey. “It comes as no surprise that this veteran Main Street group has served as an example for many other communities in Kansas.”
Situated about halfway between Topeka and Wichita, downtown Emporia is known for its historic architecture, antique stores, local boutiques, coffee shops, diverse restaurants, and a restored Spanish Colonial Revival-style theater. While EMS has supported the area through numerous challenges, the pandemic presented serious challenges to a district that depends on people to fill its shops and eateries. Yet that didn’t faze this 30-year-old nonprofit.
“We are often asked to work magic, find a way to put a round peg in a square hole, or complete a $100 project on a buck,” said EMS Executive Director Casey Woods. “When COVID-19 hit, we relied on our ability to roll with the punches as we adapted existing programs and created new initiatives to support local businesses and strengthen community spirit.”
One of the first initiatives was a partnership with the local hospital, Newman Regional Health, to rally community volunteers to make cloth masks for patients and health care workers. The Main Street office served as a home base for donations of supplies, funds, and completed masks. EMS also worked with local businesses to procure materials and deliver them to volunteer mask-makers. To date, the program has collected more than 12,000 masks.
The mask drive also generated a substantial influx of monetary donations, which eventually led EMS to create the Greater Emporia Area Disaster Relief Fund, with partners: United Way of the Flint Hills, the Emporia Community Foundation, and local media outlet KVOE. The new fund has allocated nearly $200,000 so far to more than 100 businesses and nonprofits impacted by the pandemic. Emporia Main Street also teamed up with KVOE to produce and sell “Thank U” yard signs to raise money for the disaster relief fund and publicly thank essential workers.
To bolster the local economy during the pandemic, EMS put extra effort into promoting its existing gift certificate program, which sells vouchers to be redeemed at local shops. In 2020, EMS sold approximately $70,000 in gift certificates, many of which supported an initiative to benefit staffers at Newman Regional Health. Through that program, community members could purchase gift certificates for employees or donate money to buy items at local businesses, which were used to create gift baskets for hospital departments.
To date, EMS has collected more than $7,000 through that initiative. EMS also offered the option to purchase Main Street gift certificates for local school district employees. Thanks to the community’s generosity, EMS was able to deliver more than 130 gift certificates to teachers, bus drivers, and support staff.
EMS also took action to support isolated older adults in the community—and stimulate the local economy at the same time. EMS shared the names and interests of residents in senior living facilities and asked community members to choose a penpal. Participants were also encouraged to send packages to their penpals with items purchased from local businesses.
This initiative, among others, garnered attention from local and regional media, and the community’s economic revitalization efforts have even been covered by the Wall Street JournalUSA Today and the Kauffman Foundation.
“EMS addressed the health, economic, and even social needs of its community throughout the pandemic,” said Scott Sewell, Director of Kansas Main Street. “Their extensive relief efforts brought the community together and safeguarded Emporia’s economic vitality at the same time.”
Click here for a video on Emporia Main Street and the award.

For a complete media kit, click https://www.mainstreet.org/mainstreetamerica/mainstreetawards/mainstreetforwardawards/emporia
ABOUT THE MAIN STREET FORWARD AWARDS Main Street America, a program of the National Main Street Center, has historically selected the country’s best examples of comprehensive commercial district revitalization each year. Given the events of 2020—including the converging impacts of COVID-19, a national and local reckoning related to racial justice and equity, and cascading climate crises—Main Street America decided to take a different approach to this round of awards. To recognize the inspiring tenacity and creativity Main Street programs have demonstrated over the past year, we introduced the Main Street Forward Awards, which honor six communities that serve as examples for the network—and for the country at large—of the power and perseverance of Main Street.
ABOUT MAIN STREET AMERICA Main Street America has been helping revitalize older and historic commercial districts for 40 years. Today it is a network of more than 1,600 neighborhoods and communities, rural and urban, who share both a commitment to place and to building stronger communities through preservation-based economic development. Main Street America is a program of the nonprofit National Main Street Center, Inc., a subsidiary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. For more information, visit mainstreet.org.
ABOUT EMPORIA MAIN STREET Established in 1991, Emporia Main Street Inc. serves more than 80,000 people within the city of Emporia and surrounding areas. The nonprofit is committed to increasing consumer business, strengthening retail and professional institutions, assisting in the preservation and maintenance of Emporia’s heritage, and promoting pride in the community’s institutions and achievements through design, promotion, business enhancement and organization committees. For more information, visit https://emporiamainstreet.com

About the Author

Jessica Buchholz, Events Coordinator

Jessica Buchholz is the Community Development Coordinator for Emporia Main Street in Emporia, Kansas. She specializes in event planning, volunteer recruitment, alternative marketing, media/public relations and fundraising. During Jessica's tenure at Emporia Main Street, she has helped grow events to an international level and she has created a series of new activities to meet organizational goals.


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