by Jerry Malitz
Every story needs heroes. And every piece of legislation needs advocates willing to not just fight for its passage, but to make sure it gets funded and ultimately enacted. The story of Chevy Chase Main Street is no exception.
The saga begins with Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh, who in June through the legislative process provided that there would be $200,000 to foster retail investment and improve economic vitality through a new Main Street program for the Chevy Chase neighborhood. This in turn led to a grant competition for Chevy Chase to become the 26th Main Street program in the District.
In the midst of the greatest health emergency of our lifetime, District Bridges, a community development nonprofit that manages other Main Streets, emerged as the most engaged and committed organization to seek to partner with the Chevy Chase community in pursuit of this grant. Led by its executive director, Brianne Dornbush, District Bridges submitted a grant application with the support of a coalition of Chevy Chase organizations including ANC 3/4G, the Chevy Chase Citizens Association, Friends of Chevy Chase Circle, Historic Chevy Chase DC, Northwest Neighbors Village, and Ch/Art. From the community came 110 letters of support (and in many cases financial pledges), including letters from all seven current ANC3/4G Commissioners and numerous local businesses.
With the legislation and funding in place and now with the enthusiastic backing of businesses and residents in the community, District Bridges was notified at the end of September that it was awarded the grant. Chevy Chase Main Street was a reality. Or so Chevy Chase thought.
Within a few days of the initial announcement, District Bridges was notified by DC’s Department of Small and Local Business Development that due to DC budget issues exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the award was being rescinded and the money reprogrammed.
This came as devastating news to the Chevy Chase business community, which like many other DC locales has suffered greatly during the current health emergency. They have not had the help of a Main Street program director to assist them with pivotal grant proposals or even to let them know when these programs are available. Financial assistance and other programmatic support that businesses get through their Main Street programs were also unavailable.
In other words, their ability to survive had been severely compromised. Chevy Chase has lost three small businesses over the past six months. Others are hanging on as best they can, and the businesses were looking forward to the boost that being part of a Main Street program might give them.
This unfortunate new situation called for help from as many quarters as possible. On October 26th, ANC 3/4G unanimously passed a resolution calling for the reinstatement of the Main Street grant, individual letters were sent by ANC commissioners to DC officials, partner organizations did the same, and Brianne Dornbush worked all the angles she could. Not that those efforts did not make a difference, but it was the steadfast advocacy and determination of Mary Cheh that truly made it happen. In time, Council member Cheh said, “I was able to speak with the Mayor about the reprogramming issue and, happily, she agreed to restore the grant funding.”
Cheh understood how the dedicated support of an organization, in this case District Bridges, could potentially make a difference between a small business surviving or not. After two months of advocating and pursuing all possible avenues it was Councilmember Cheh’s determined efforts on behalf of Chevy Chase that resulted in the reinstatement of the money that would fund the Chevy Chase Main Street grant.
So, due to these efforts and community engagement this chapter of the story has a happy ending.
“This restoration couldn’t come at a better, or more necessary, time for our small business community that is in desperate need of our support,” Cheh said. “It is my hope that we will soon see much of the same excitement, enthusiasm, and business focus in Chevy Chase as we’ve seen along the other Main Street corridors in Ward 3 and across the District.”
Projections nowadays are hard but hopefully this Chevy Chase Main Street initiative leveraged with the continued enthusiastic support of residents and neighborhood organizations will help the Chevy Chase small business community stay afloat during these troubling times and then thrive once we all come out the other side.
During his four years as an ANC 3/4G commissioner, Jerry Malitz started a constituent newsletter and a website that includes a complete Chevy Chase business directory and other useful information. When his term is up January, the monthly newsletter will continue as “Chevy Chase News & Notes.” Subscribe here.