DAYTON — Lorna Barth calls it her twist on the Adopt-a-Highway program.

In this case, though, vacant downtown storefronts in Dayton are being cleaned, refreshened and maintained by nonprofit groups committed to keeping up the work in three-month increments. In exchange, the nonprofits get to market their organizations, projects and events with displays in the empty windows.

“We have two storefronts adopted now, and they look fantastic,” Barth said.

Inside the former Alder Street Dental location at 202 E. Main St., Columbia County 4-H youth robotics club members were the first to test out the program. Dioramas with photographs and descriptions show what the program participants learn and do.

The latest is at 238 E. Main St., the former spot of an attorney’s office. After professionals were brought on to help remove a baked-on window film, the Dayton Historical Depot Society adopted the space as a way to share a slice of Main Street. For All Wheels Weekend, wrapping up in Dayton today, the window display was set up to include photos of antique automobiles.

“If you adopted (a building), then you can show what your group is about in whatever theme is coming up,” Barth said. “It gives them an opportunity to change things up.”

The Adopt-a-Storefront concept was created as a solution to bring together nonprofits with a penchant for community service and a need for marketing with vacant property owners whose spaces could use some sprucing on the main drag through the community.

Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce and Port of Columbia officials are hopeful the program may even spark interest in new investment in their town.

“We’re just trying to really clean up, beautify and give our vacant buildings a face-lift so potential entrepreneurs could maybe see themselves in the space,” said Chamber Executive Director Melissa Bryan.

Barth, the former 4-H coordinator for the community, was looking for ways to observe the organization’s 100th anniversary in Columbia County when the idea came to her. Unsure of where to go with it, she approached a friend in real estate who recommended she take it to the Port of Columbia, where Economic Development Coordinator Kathryn Witherington was an immediate willing helper. Soon it developed into a much bigger vision.

Barth also connected with Bryan who was a tie to the Dayton Development Task Force. All of the organizations have either been advocates or helped facilitate the program with communication to property owners and more.

The Chamber has been an integral partner, helping facilitate the application process and a contract between the participating groups and the private property owners.

Bryan said numerous nonprofits have come forward, interested in the mutually exclusive partnerships that clean up Main Street and bolster community awareness at the same time.

“The nice thing is the groups are actually not only putting displays inside, but are physically cleaning the windows and the space outside,” Bryan said. “We have kids physically outside scrubbing sidewalks, getting invested in Main Street.

“The sense of pride that it’s established is super cool to see.”

Organizers say numerous other vacant buildings are expected to join the mix with nonprofit partners.

The Boldman House Museum, Smith Hollow Country Schoolhouse Museum, Liberty Theater, and Blue Mountain Artists Guild are among the numerous nonprofits interested in taking on the rejuvenation.

 

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at 509-526-8321, vickihillhouse@wwub.com or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/VickiHillhouse.

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.

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