Meet Main Street Lockport
An Organization You Should Know!
With its distinctive look and historic buildings, Lockport has a charm that compels you to visit its shops, eateries, nearby Illinois and Michigan (I&M) Canal and trail, and museums. This attractive, walkable downtown area includes a range of businesses from a homemade candy store and antique shops, to upscale restaurants, art galleries and museums.
Its healthy downtown business district has developed through community support according to the city’s website which states, “Because of proactive efforts . . . the city of Lockport is one of the best-preserved canal sites in existence today.”
A part of that proactive effort is due to Main Street Lockport – initiated by local volunteers who worked with the Upper Illinois Valley Association (now the Canal Corridor Association) in 1991, when CCA brought the National Main Street Center and the National Trust for Historic Preservation to Illinois to work with our canal towns.
One small change, ‘Clean Sweep’, immediately brought big rewards. It brought the community together from children to adults, as they cleaned debris and planted flowers in downtown planters to the nearby park next to the canal. It became an annual event.
Now more than 30 years old, community members still look forward to it each May, according to current president Nancy Ramirez. In 2017, it was what drew her into the organization.
“It wasn’t a difficult task to participate in, and to see all those humans out in the bright sunlight beautifying their community was enriching,” she said. “Last May there were more than 130 volunteers cleaning the grounds and refreshing gardens.”
“It turned out to be empowering too,” she said. “I’ve noticed that having beautiful spaces and places to gather deters people from dropping a lot of litter and garbage.”
The organization’s contribution is much more than that, Ramirez added. “We are an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit. We are a volunteer-based organization that serves Lockport’s historic downtown district. Our mission is to help to beautify, preserve, revitalize, and promote the historic character of the downtown to help ensure its economic future.”
She said there are visual signs that show their progress everywhere. Among them they have created directional signage for visitors entering Lockport. They have planted seven gardens. In one, adjacent to Lincoln Landing, which is outdoor museum and park next to the canal, they planted what they call the Gateway Garden, filled with indigenous plants, and installed a limestone stairway that takes you down to the canal.
With the help of the historical society, they created a self-guided walking tour and placed informative bronze plaques on historically significant buildings. They also added event lighting to a historic scale-house outside the Illinois State Museum Lockport Gallery to enhance evening events.
“In the beginning of COVID we also partnered with others and supplied the small businesses with fabric masks and hand sanitizer to help them stay open,” she said. “Through the Canal Corridor Association, we were included in the 35th anniversary celebration of America’s first national heritage area. Between our four stamp locations in their I&M Canal National Heritage Corridor Passport brochure, we handed out more than 1000 passports.”
Recently, to increase downtown business traffic, she said, “We created a business card in partnership with five of our downtown restaurants. We called it, ‘A Surprising Delight’. We invited guests who live outside our zip code and visited our historic district to dine at any of them. The card stated, ‘Main Street Lockport recommended that we visit you.’ Then, the restaurants provided a discount or a treat with their meal as a thank you.” she added. “The used cards collected tallied 3,437!”
Through their organization, Ramirez said they share a camaraderie with the business owners and the community, develop ways to bring visitors in, and are spurred on by the results.
“Main Street Lockport is being recognized for their dedication since 1991 to preserve the historic character of downtown Lockport and ensure its economic future using the principles of the National Main Street Center,” said Ana B. Koval, President/CEO Canal Corridor Association.
By Nancy Uznanski