The Main Street America program

I started Eclogiselle because it became increasingly clear in my mind that Aberdeen cannot solve "Aberdeen's homeless problem" by trying to "fix Aberdeen"...
In December 2017, I applied for the Executive Director job at the Main Street America program in Aberdeen, Washington. I didn't get it and didn't really expect to get it.

I'm seriously medically handicapped and doing stupid stuff when I have been awake far too many hours is my version of drunk dialing.

At 5 a.m. one morning, after being up 20 hours straight, I went looking for when the next meeting of some local program was scheduled, tripped across a job listing that had closed five days earlier and spent maybe fifteen minutes on digging up a decade-old resume and some transcripts, failed to figure out how to update my resume and emailed it to them without bothering to include some third piece they asked for.

They had already met me and I'm some loud-mouthed, brassy broad who wears a lot on my sleeve, so they all knew I moved to Aberdeen to get back into housing a few weeks earlier after several years of homelessness. I expected to not so much as get a "Thank you for your interest, but this listing is CLOSED." email from them.

I figured I wouldn't merit any such polite fictions while they rolled their eyes at me for daring to apply at all, much less after the closing date with an incomplete application. Instead, to my shock, they fairly promptly emailed me back and asked for the missing portion of the application.

Three months after they hired someone else, one day HE said to me "You could totally do this job." and also in exasperation said he would recommend me as his replacement "If I QUIT!"

So I actually updated my decade old resume and sent it to them and said that I do freelance work, so I would be available to start a position IMMEDIATELY without having to give notice anywhere, and indicated I would take a part-time or full-time position with them.

My thinking was maybe they are successful, have too much work for one full-time employee, come up with funds to pay a part-time assistant and hire me. And if he really did quit, they could hire me without having to start their search for candidates over from scratch.

I didn't really want a full-time job. I really wanted a part-time job or to get paid as a freelancer.

No one in town could seem to wrap their brains around:
  • She just wants to get PAID for her work and not be treated as a "volunteer."
  • She's not REALLY interested in a full-time job.
Nothing I said had any impact on certain people in town imagining me as the next Executive Director -- while not actually firing the guy they hired and offering me the job -- and I certainly needed more income, so I let THEIR fantasies of me accepting a full-time job fuel my own fantasies of finally making my life work and having a real career and adequate income and blah blah blah.

So Eclogiselle was dreamed up as a part-time "side business" to help other small towns in the area on top of being the Executive Director fixing THIS TOWN by a woman too sick to actually hold down a full-time job.

I had my moments when I realized "This is deluded nonsense and will never fly." and I also had my moments when I thought "Oh, maybe THIS becomes a successful consulting business and I can finally make my life work that way."

But the thought experiment driving this project and some of my other writing was "If I were the Executive Director for the local Main Street program, how do I actually fix things here?" And my conclusion was essentially that really fixing the problems here would require stuff to happen that would be outside the scope of the job in question.

Eclogiselle was dreamed up as the means to actually do the parts of the job that I felt I couldn't do AS part of the job.

Among other things, Aberdeen has a big homeless problem. You can't really fix that by "fixing downtown," yet the Main Street program defines your physical area of responsibility FOR you.

Someone from their program comes in, assesses where the historic buildings are and tells you where your "downtown" is that you will be revitalizing. And you are supposed to MOSTLY invest your time and effort in developing that physical area.

Over the past several years, I have tried to figure out if the Main Street America program is simply broken and doesn't really work. I still don't have a definitive answer to that.

My feeling is that it's designed for extremely small towns with enthusiastic local volunteers and no real qualifications to do planning and development work. It's intended to be a free resource from the federal government for fostering the economic health of very small towns.

But I think the federal government is maybe inherently poorly positioned to do that for small towns. I think the program ends up being overly bureaucratic and having too much overhead in terms of time and effort for filling out THEIR paperwork, attending THEIR meetings, etc.

Federal processes that were developed to manage a sprawling country with millions of citizens are simply a poor fit for managing a small town in that country. That doesn't mean it's useless, but do be aware that you may need to get creative to fulfill their requirements and ALSO actually do real economic development on top of playing the game and keeping the paperwork up to date to keep them happy.


While doing volunteer work for some of the local programs, including the Main Street program, and imagining a better future for myself, I developed some resources aimed at helping THIS town via the Main Street America program. You may wish to check some of them out.
  • Project: SRO has a Style Guide, something the Main Street program requires as a basic, early thing for your program. You are free to adopt it as long as you give me credit, which you can do by editing the language template provided.
  • They emphasize revitalizing historic downtowns. I suggest you stay on top of mold and similar issues found in old buildings (but do so quietly), try to find grants to help locals pay for such things and do your own analysis for where you might want the future downtown footprint to be rather than being entirely defined by the town's past. (Posts on this site may help you think about that.)
  • Project: SRO also has ideas for developing residential units with downtown Aberdeen in mind. It potentially plays nicely with redeveloping your historic downtown without having to tear down half the buildings to meet parking minimums.
  • If you have a homeless problem, you may wish to read the post linked at the very top of this post for some ideas that may help you.
I suggest you also do some analysis of local transportation and services you feel are "missing" from the area and set your own goals for what you would like to see happening. Checking off the requirements for the Main Street program may keep you "certified" by them but that doesn't necessarily translate to real economic development.

Economic development generally means people getting paid for their work. If more paid employment, more local businesses and fatter bottom lines for local venues are not among your primary metrics, you probably aren't really doing economic development.

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