Karen Ott Mayer

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Karen Ott Mayer Como Main Street Alliance volunteer coordinator

Como’s Main Street Alliance aims to tap unique town’s potential

Como is turning a new page in its history.

In January 2012, the Como Town Board and Mayor Everett Hill agreed to enter into a partnership with Como’s private sector to pursue a network membership in the Mississippi Main Street Association. Since then, the ball has started rolling and many folks are scratching their heads, trying to understand one thing.

What does this all mean for Como?

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Since agreeing to act as lead volunteer coordinator through this initial phase, I have been busy working with others to establish a financial structure, form a steering committee, and begin building relationships.  

Recently, the group introduced the formal name:  Como Main Street Alliance.

While all of those are essential steps, one more critical piece exists:  Communication.  

It’s essential we all ask questions, collaborate and learn.  To that end, this article will be the first in a series designed to keep us all engaged in an open dialogue.

First, a little history.  Founded in 1980 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the MSSA program serves many communities in Mississippi and exists in all 50 states.

Their mission, along with tons of information found at www.mainstreet.com, is as such:
“The mission of the Mississippi Main Street Association is to provide leadership, guidance and counsel to Mississippi Main Street communities through organization, promotion, design and economic development to make our cities and towns better places to work, live and play.”

So why bother pursuing such lofty ideals?  Como is not unlike many small communities that lack a community-wide initiative that provides structure, organization, and most importantly, clear direction.  Without consensus and a strategic plan, real progress rarely happens and citizens find themselves bogged down in circular, non-productive conversations.

Government leaders, individual organizations and even individual volunteers in all communities generally benefit from some type of umbrella organization to help folks get on the same page and make decisions as a collective body.  

People have asked me…can MSSA make a difference for us?

My response is generally the same–I have no crystal ball.  I do know with all certainty, however, that when nothing is risked in life, nothing is gained.  Through many conversations with other towns, it’s clear that success is tied to strong leadership and an entrepreneurial spirit willing to experiment, fail, experiment…and keep trying.  Those towns in Mississippi that haven’t found success with MSSA suffer from lack of leadership, too much infighting within organizations or individuals, or an unwillingness to simply work.  

At this onset, I think it’s helpful to discuss any misperceptions about MSSA or its intent.  

• MSSA is an inclusive effort, meaning the trademark name is “Main Street” but in no way implies that this doesn’t look at all parts of a community.  It simply means that historically, commerce and trade in small towns happened on Main Street so that’s the logical place to start when looking at revitalizing local economies.  We have to start somewhere, right?

• MSSA has a wide reach and many working partners across the state.

• Anyone, including private individuals, businesses or non-profit organizations, can support a Mississippi Main Street community through membership.
Como has several advantages when looking at the timing for joining MSSA:

• Como possesses a true authenticity rarely found and one that many towns are trying to recreate after years of development has erased historic sites and individuality.

• Tourists today are seeking authentic experiences and nostalgia and Como has untapped tourism potential.  Let’s face it, the world is tired of strip malls, box stores, and chain hotels that provide no sense of place.

• Como is already branded as a destination location and a retirement community.

• Como has an existing preservation group.

• Como only has 8 to 10 opportunities for new businesses on Main Street.  While some may view these vacancies as a detriment, it’s truly the reverse.  Once those opportunities to do business on Main Street are gone, more folks will wish they had possessed the foresight to take a risk in the early days.

• Everybody loves Como!

I can attest to one fact: change is coming.  The push from Desoto County is already happening and will continue as populations grow.  None of us can stop that inevitable train which will bring more new faces to town.  What we can do, however, is believe in our potential and work towards it to create the best possible community for ourselves and future generations.   

We’re just getting started, so keep in touch with any additional questions or thoughts.
Como Main Street Alliance, PO Box 13, Como, Mississippi 38619; ksomayer@gmail.com; 901-340-7281.