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Conference sheds light on importance of downtown

Washington State Main Street Program held its fifth-annual, three-day conference in Bellingham. The conference included workshops about preservation, economic development and design issues of historical buildings located downtown, including an awards ceremony with a special performance by the MegaZapper, one of the nation’s largest tesla coils. The Main Street Program’s mission is to help revitalize the downtown economy, specifically helping local business owners strive in, and preserve historical buildings in Bellingham’s downtown district while encouraging the use of local businesses. The event sold out with over 300 people from all around the state attending the conference, who stayed in local hotels and dined at local businesses. The conference isn’t only focused on preserving historical buildings in Bellingham, it’s about preserving historical buildings all around Washington to keep each town’s history intact and unchanged by large corporations looking to demolish and rebuild. Raven Gonzales, anthropology student and intern at SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention, said it’s important to preserve the historical buildings in Bellingham because it enriches Bellingham’s culture, and also gets people more interested in visiting the downtown district. Michael Houser, Washington state’s architectural historian, said the main point of the conference is to keep people downtown using small businesses and away from the mall. “Downtown buildings make communities unique. Strip malls, you can find those everywhere. It’s historic buildings and small businesses that make your town special,” Houser said. The awards ceremony supported local businesses by serving local food from several different businesses around town, including refreshments from Aslan Brewery. The ceremony recognized over 15 businesses with a total of 10 awards. Community Energy Challenge in Bellingham won the Green Community award for their contribution and push toward alternative energies. Sarah Hansen, Washington State Main Street coordinator, said the importance of the program is that people need to learn and understand the impact of their purchasing power. “I think that there are people that don’t understand the really complicated web of relationships that local buying builds,” Hansen said. “When you spend money at a big corporation, it may be cheaper in the immediate sense, but the impact of that is much broader and it’s really important to understand.”

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