JOIP intern Brittany Grady reflects on how her placement organization Jasper Main Street is transforming small town life in Jasper, AL. Part of a series of thought pieces from our interns embedded in communities across Alabama.
Mike Putnam, executive director of Jasper Main Street, is excited about all the businesses opening doors in his community. Since accepting his position three years ago, he has helped the organization bring in eight new businesses and $3 million in investment.
“Today, we stand on the cusp of change with remarkable momentum. We are remaking vacant storefronts into the largest collection of specialty shops in the region,” Putnam said.
The Main Street success story can be clearly seen in the Jasper, home to 14,109 in northwest Alabama. Five years ago, roughly 75 percent of store fronts were vacant downtown. As of today, approximately 30 percent are not being used.
New downtown businesses include Exclusively Yours, Lavish Coffee Bar, Michelle’s Bakery, Nick Sanders Jewelers, White Tulip, Johnny Brusco’s Pizza, and Realty South.
Putnam, who works with a 15-member Main Street board of directors, has helped to establish a special atmosphere that brings individuals from Jasper and beyond in to enjoy the lively ambiance generated by the new businesses.
His philosophy that “downtown is the heart of any community” drives his passion. Putnam explained, “The heart has to be healthy for everything else to thrive. Downtown is the starting point of any community and is where our roots are.”
Today, Jasper is enjoying the revitalized downtown with “exciting restaurants, practical stores, fun stop-n-shops, and upscale boutiques” that attract both residents and tourists, he said. For example, visitors to the fourth annual Tallulah Bankhead Festival sponsored by Main Street in June came for various festival events but stayed to visit the new downtown shops.
“Our restaurants serve food and ambiance that feel like you are dining in a much larger city.”
-Mike Putnam, Jasper Main Street
And more good news is on the way. Putnam said, “The next steps for Jasper Main Street include welcoming two new breweries to Jasper. The town is looking forward to receiving the Tallulah Brewing Company and Twisted Barley Brew.”
Putnam said he believes businesses serve as the perfect tool to alter perceptions about small town living. “Our restaurants serve food and ambiance that feel like you are dining in a much larger city.”
He emphasized that it takes hard work and credits the Main Street team for making progress possible. One key tool that Main Street uses to attract businesses is market analysis. In this process, a team determines how well a business will prosper downtown based on the need for their product in the Walker County area. Putnam is then able to use this tool to help persuade businesses to open in Jasper.
It is all part of the mission of Jasper Main Street, an organization dedicated to revitalizing the community Jasper through means of design, organization, promotion, and economic development.
Putman’s appreciation for community influenced his decision to move to Jasper permanently.
In addition, Putnam said one of his personal goals for Main Street and the community as a whole is to help people “see Jasper as I see it.”
Putnam explained how much of his decision to move to Jasper was based on his love for small towns. The Birmingham native grew up in the downtown area of the much bigger city. He said the core of Birmingham functioned much like a small town.
With his mother working at The Birmingham News for more than 35 years, his K-8 school St. Paul being in the center of downtown, and his first job at the age of 16 also in the vicinity, downtown is where he spent most of his time. Putman’s appreciation for community later influenced his decision to move to Jasper permanently.
Although some may hold negative opinions about small towns, Putnam emphasized that he hopes everyone views Jasper as “a welcoming place for any and every one.”
– Brittany Grady, 2016-17 Jean O’Connor-Snyder Intern