Just four years ago, Main Street in Corbin, Kentucky (population 7,300), looked and felt like most downtowns in rural America: vacant buildings, empty sidewalks, and few surviving businesses.
Today it’s hard to find a parking space on the mile and a half of Corbin’s Main Street.
“We have a vibrant 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. economy here now,” said Andy Salmons, the city’s Main Street manager.
Corbin is among a growing number of towns discovering and capitalizing on the power of local food to provide a new economy stimulus.
Bringing people back downtown to live, work, and play is key, said Corbin Mayor Willard McBurney. “To do that you need places to eat, places to shop.”
A turning point was when Main St. manager Salmons partnered two years ago with the successful Whitley County Farmers Market. They brought vendors and live music to downtown’s Vibroc Park. The event gets people used to coming downtown. It also serves as a business incubator and networking service.
Kristin Smith, a farmer and co-owner of downtown’s new Wrigley Taproom and Brewery, got her start there. She field-tested her “New Appalachian” tacos, got acquainted with her now-business partners, and graduated with them to the brick-and-mortar restaurant.
Doing Business Together
Part of local food’s power is in residents’ desire to support neighbors like her. Smith came back home to southeastern Kentucky from California a few years ago to keep the sixth-generation family farm going.
“When someone you’ve known your whole life opens up a new restaurant, you’re rooting for them,” Smith said. “A large majority of our community is rooting for us, and a large majority doesn’t even drink!”
Read the full story at the Good Food Economy Digest.