New Main Street director has lifelong interest in downtowns, historic preservationMolly Goldsmith is a young woman in love with old buildings.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
Molly Goldsmith is a young woman in love with old buildings.
That explains her education and career choices. Goldsmith, 24, is the new program director for Mitchell Main Street and Beyond. The Princeton, Ill., native and University of Wyoming graduate sat down with The Daily Republic recently to discuss her job and the promising future she envisions for downtown Mitchell.
Following are excerpts from the interview.
Q. What interested you in this line of work?
A. I came here from Laramie, Wyoming. I was volunteering for similar organizations. My master’s degree is in American studies with a concentration in historic preservation. …
I had worked with a couple of main streets and I really enjoyed that kind of work, and I realized I had been kind of doing the same kind of work my entire life — my short life, as people have said.
The town where I’m from is really small; it’s about half the size of Mitchell. My parents always shopped locally — before it was cool. I think that is what pushed me into this line of work.
Q. Had you ever been in South Dakota before? What’s your initial take on Mitchell and its downtown?
I hadn’t been to South Dakota until three weeks ago. I really like (Mitchell’s Main Street). I think it has a lot of possibilities and they’ve already done so much from what I understand and the photos that I’ve seen from the past. I think they’re doing really good things. There’s more work to do but, right now, we’re on the right track.
Q. What challenges does downtown face?
A. I think there’s the regular kind of issues. Parking is always going to be an issue; any downtown has a parking issue. And I think getting people downtown more. I know we’re kind of moving into the tourism season now, it gets a little different. I’d like to see more local people downtown, too. Attracting people and making them realize what a great thing we have is going to be important.
Q. How do you propose getting more people to come downtown?
A. There’s a lot of different ways and Main Street’s already started working on some of those things, like holding events that aren’t necessarily sales for our downtown businesses. But making sure we’re having promotions, having things like live music, closing a street and having a festival downtown — those things are all going to help us to get people down here. I think gradually, over time, we’ll find more solutions to getting them downtown.
I think making it aesthetically pleasing is one thing that’s going to help, too. The streetscape and the buildings themselves, those are pieces of an overall revitalization.
Q. The Rapid City summer concert series on Thursday night has been a major success in downtown, doubling and tripling in size in just a few years. Is that something you’d like to emulate?
A. I’ve seen things like that in Wyoming and they work really well. But it takes a lot of time and a lot of planning. … There’s a lot of winter here, and we’re quickly approaching summer. It is something to think long-term, getting things going for next year.
The summer here already has so much going on, with Stampede (Rodeo) and (Corn Palace) Festival. And those are big things that already do draw people downtown. But I think having a band or doing some kind of event that would get people downtown just on a regular basis, once a month on Thursdays, or doing something every Friday or Saturday, is going to be key to making people realize what kind of businesses we actually have and what events they can attend.
Q. Do you think it’s important to build a new arena or events center downtown? Have you learned much about the long saga of the proposed center? Do downtown business owners want an arena downtown?
A. I have heard about the Corn Palace, and for us, the Corn Palace is a big draw. It’s good it’s in the historic district for us. At the same time, we have to remember people at the Corn Palace don’t always visit our businesses and we really want them to. So if having a larger arena might attract more people to stay downtown, great. Having the Corn Palace downtown is a wonderful thing. But at the same time, we have to remember that downtown isn’t just the Corn Palace.
Q. Would a fourth-generation, larger Corn Palace mean several local businesses would have to close or be relocated?
A. I don’t think anybody who owns a small business wants to see their business end. You know, even in today’s economy, the people who run a business run it for a reason, they love what they do. They have passion for it and they love what they do. I don’t think anybody would want to see their business end, even for the right price. Most people I talk to are so excited. We’re getting out of the gloom of winter and they’re excited about the prospect of sales. It’s a great time to be in business, for sure.
Q. Upwards of 200,000 people stop at the Corn Palace each year. Can you get more of them to shop downtown? Is that something that we could do, or is that just sort of a pipe dream?
A. I think it’s totally possible. It’s absolutely possible. We’re working on creating a stronger and closer relationship with the Chamber (of Commerce), and I think that’s going to help. With a stronger relationship, we can draw more people farther down the street.
Q. What does downtown need the most, in your view?
A. I think we need a really big anchor of some kind. It’d be nice to have a grocery store. I live downtown and I work downtown. I like the idea that I don’t have to drive, ever. I walk to work and I do all my shopping downtown, but it would be nice to have a grocery store. And maybe that would encourage more people to live the kind of lifestyle I do, which I think is pretty great. That kind of lifestyle is getting to be pretty trendy. And it’s not just young people in apartments. It’d be nice to see more people living downtown and it’d be nice to see them shopping downtown.
Q. The Mitchell City Council recently doubled the size of the existing revolving loan fund to aid in restoring and improving downtown. How is that working?
A. Now that the council’s doing this, we’re looking to increase that fund even more. Right now the revolving loan fund can loan out $10,000. We’d really like to see more people take advantage of it. In the future, we think we can bump that up to $20,000.
Q. Did the recent spike in assessed values harm efforts to improve downtown?
A. The tax assessments are unfortunate, to say the least. Main Street is working on a solution to that situation right now. We’re looking at possible options and hoping that Main Street members and businesses downtown will remember we’re there to be their advocates and we present a very unified front, and if all of us stick together, we can do something about what’s going on.
We don’t want to see people’s property assessments go up 500 percent. We definitely don’t want to see that. We want to see downtown remain a business incubator and encourage small businesses.
Q. How much of a role should city government play in downtown?
A. That’s a difficult question. I haven’t been here long enough to find out how much support there is. From what I understand right now, there’s a very pro-business, pro-downtown City Council. We’ll see how that changes. I mean, having a City Council that’s in support of downtown is very important, and with an upcoming election that may change. But the only thing we can do is recommend people vote for a candidate that wants to see downtown thrive and wants to support it with their decisions.
Q. How many hours a week do you work?
A. It’s full-time. Anywhere from 40 to 70 (hours). We sit on a lot of committees, because we want to know what’s going on. I enjoy going to work. I really enjoy it. Every small success in this kind of position, every new event, every event improved, and every new member is a small step to a major goal.