Last week at our annual Celebration & Reception, we threw a party for all of the downtown rockstars.

As I started working on my presentation, which blends a “Year in Review” with a “Look Ahead,” I began reflecting on my first year with the Downtown Harrisonburg community. As I thought about the people who make Downtown what it is, I got an overwhelming urge to run around the room during Celebration to high-five everyone for all of their incredible contributions toward building community.

I am truly proud of HDR’s work, but sincerely believe that the credit for Downtown’s renaissance deserves to be shared. Without you, there would be no HDR and there would be no downtown community. You show up and you make things happen - sometimes with HDR and sometimes on your own. All of us care about Downtown. We are all optimists who hold dearly the idea that we can make our community a little better and stronger every day. Our Downtown community walks this talk and we all have a different role we play.

You know who these optimists are. They are the staff and volunteers with Explore More Discovery Museum who established this destination years ago when not much was going on and helped jump start the revitalization. They are staff and volunteers with the library – a community institution that so many other downtowns have lost to the suburbs throughout the U.S.

There is a whole crew of optimists with Citizens for Downtown who have made Fridays on the Square a success for 26 years. Have you seen their 2017 line up? This is a quality event. And so is the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo produced by Jeremiah and Erin Bishop. This event is produced on a professional level and brings so many new people downtown, which is a huge boost for tourism and raises the profile of our City. On a smaller scale, but just as important, are events like the outdoor yoga class that Justine Pasco Smith and Luke Smith hosted at Turner Pavilion to raise funds for the future downtown park. Fund raisers who support great projects that activate the downtown are among my favorite.

Fridays on the Square. Photo Credit: Michael Sheeler

Fridays on the Square. Photo Credit: Michael Sheeler

And, Harrisonburg has such great volunteers! I mentioned Linda Hoover who is active with many nonprofits but also finds the time to produce monthly networking lunches and events for female professionals in the area. I gave a shout out to Kathy and Doc Whitten who are supportive of numerous organizations as well as their neighbors – offering to lend a hand or make contributions. And then Kathy goes the extra mile to deliver baked goods to help us office workers get through the afternoon. Two other talented community volunteers include Brandy Somers and Katie Carney Mitchell who find time to produce a blog and weekly newsletter filled with all of the Happy-ings going on around town.

Katie Carney Mitchell and Brandy Somers, creators of I Love My Burg. Photo Credit: I Love My Burg Facebook Page

Katie Carney Mitchell and Brandy Somers, creators of I Love My Burg. Photo Credit: I Love My Burg Facebook Page

Downtown businesses are the backbone of our community; many business owners go the extra mile to provide great customer service, terrific meals, and support local organizations.  But Downtown, some go an extra 100 miles. I think about Kevin Gibson and Alan Maynard of VA Momentum who took a risk on becoming entrepreneurs and developing a business model that promotes community and wellness while making contributions to nonprofits as part of their mission. I think about Paul Somers who frequently turns his business into a safe space for community dialog and understanding. I think about Tim Brady who hosts WMRA’s Books and Brew events and is teaming with Skyline Literacy to host multi-lingual story hours during the day for families.

Kevin Gibson and Alan Maynard, Founders of VA Momentum. Photo Credit: VA Momentum's Facebook Page

Kevin Gibson and Alan Maynard, Founders of VA Momentum. Photo Credit: VA Momentum's Facebook Page

I could go on and on…and hope to at next year’s Celebration. But I can’t stress enough that Downtown community members really make this place what it is, and HDR is lucky to harness that spirit and collaborate with all of you.

What’s New Downtown?

Celebration is also so much fun because we get to share what’s coming up downtown. Here’s a quick round up:

  •  HDR will be offering $16,000 in David F. Denman Façade Enhancement Grants thanks to support from Heather Denman, Cottonwood Commercial, and the City’s Economic Development Department. Look for the applications to be available in late Spring. 
  • We’ll be getting a deli downtown! (Stay tuned for a blog with details soon.)
  • We partnered with HEC to keep the festive lights on the trees along Main Street all year round!
  • The efficiency Lofts at 83 South Main above Kline May are complete! Some are still available if you know of anyone interested in living downtown.
  • Agora Downtown Market is searching for retailers, crafters, and artisans to create a collaborate micro-retailing space in the Wine Bros Building…and RISE plans to open a similar concept in early 2018 in their church’s space off Court Square.
  • We are so happy that The Yellow Button and Cat’s Cradle will be moving back to Main Street in the Keezell Building and that Black Sheep Coffee will be expanding into Yellow Button’s space in the Ice House.
  • Also, the building at Mason and Market that has been under construction for a while is getting closer to completion. The Friendly Fermenter plans to turn the basement space into a nanobrewery and home brewing retail spot. The ground and second floors will be occupied by Lafah Café, a Chipotle-style Middle Eastern café with bar. And the top floor will have a few living units.

There is a lot happening downtown…and these are only the things I can talk about! More is to come.   

In the last year, we had more than 30 new openings, relocations, or expansions. In fact, I had to add two more slides to this section of my presentation because we had such a great year. Two beautiful historic buildings created new, hip office and retail space for tenants of the Hess Building and the Depot. We welcomed popular newcomers like Boboko, Shirley’s Gourmet Popcorn, and Ruby’s Arcade. Cool businesses like Hotel Appalachia, a DIY recording studio, is now part of the mix.

We’re looking forward to a great year ahead and appreciate your support. Thank you, our readers, for connecting with us, voting us Best Use of Taxpayer Money, coming to our events, being a Friend of Downtown, buying our awesome prints and Deck of Deals, shopping and dining locally, and encouraging people you know to come downtown and to support HDR.

Shameless plug - if you refer a Friend of Downtown to us today, we’ll give you $10 Downtown Dollars.


Written by Andrea Dono. Andrea is Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance's Executive Director. When Andrea isn’t downtown, she spends as much of her free time as possible either “Main Streeting” – exploring other historic downtowns – or getting outdoors. She is working on her Virginia Master Naturalist Certification with the intention of leading exciting conservation projects and volunteering in the Shenandoah Valley