Our new AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer program coordinator, Meritt Dickerson-Weed, is entering her second month of service here in Three Rivers, and will co-author this column for the foreseeable future. She will be known in this space henceforth as “Main Street Meritt.” Thus, the writing that follows is a joint effort.
The word change comes with multiple connotations. Often, we associate it with disruption and adjustment, or the loss of cherished things. Just as often, it can imply new opportunities and a promise of better days to come. Either way, it can bring to mind the work it takes to enact physical change as well as shift how we think about and do things.
With that level of work in mind, the two of us discussed one morning why either of us is here. It turns out to be a long list, but opportunity is the running theme. One of us spent his summers here as a child, while the other is truly local. It was she who pointed out something important: we’ve got these three great rivers, and our downtown sits where they meet, meaning that sometime in the distant past, people—first Potowatomi, then fur traders, then farmers and machinists—decided to make this little collection of land points their home. Today, it is our home. Three Rivers is a place where generations of us have walked downtown and to the park with our grandparents or other people who are significant to us, looked at the rivers and the beautiful old buildings, and realized that we live someplace special. It has changed a great deal over the years, sometimes in ways that were difficult, and sometimes in ways that had truly great, lasting benefit, but the change has usually been slow enough to manage.
Here in downtown Three Rivers, change can be a mixed bag. For years, it meant a slow decline, but today, it is mostly positive, and it is something that we are proud and happy to embrace. The challenge of not only bringing in new businesses but also of changing the way people see downtown, and building habits of treating it as an asset, mean a lot of work. There’s the work of filling empty storefronts, of staging events that bring people here, and in constantly and diligently getting the message out. That message, however, is rooted in positivity: it is one in which we know that not only can we make our downtown a place that we want to spend time and that abounds with things to do—but it is one of the greatest opportunities that we have available to us today. An active, vibrant Main Street will benefit us all, and we can use the setting of its surroundings amid parks and rivers—the same things that made all those pioneering people stop and settle here generations ago—to make it a special, one-of-a-kind destination for ourselves and others. And, as it turns out, there is little to disrupt and little to lose. Our downtown is finally showing signs of coming out of a long, lean period, and there’s plenty of room to go nowhere but up.
So, it’s just a matter of stepping up to the plate. When we ask ourselves and each other why we are here, there’s no doubt. This place is special. It matters to us, it is our home, and we want to do what it takes to make it as awesome as it can be. Meritt’s job going forward is to take our initiatives and directives and find places where citizens like you can fit into them. She’s writing volunteer position descriptions, putting measures in place to communicate about what’s happening and keep track of who’s here, and evaluating what we do and how we do it so everyone’s input means something, and everyone’s work helps to move the bar forward. We’ve got a place in it for you, too, so as you think about how Three Rivers might change for the better, keep us in mind. We’ll be happy to work alongside you.
Dave Vago is Executive Director of the Three Rivers Downtown Development Authority and Main Street Program. He spent summers growing up in Three Rivers, and has worked in the business of making great old places socially and commercially viable. Meritt Dickerson-Weed is the AmeriCorps VISTA service member working to make the Three Rivers Main Street’s volunteer program as effective as possible, and hails from Three Rivers.