DENHAM SPRINGS — Despite the cancellation of some popular activities in the city’s historic district because of the coronavirus pandemic, the director and volunteers who comprise Main Street Denham Springs are continuing their efforts to promote visitations and business activity in the old, historic heart of the city.
Donna Jennings, who has been executive director of Main Street Denham Springs for many years, said her group has redoubled its efforts to support the merchants who have kept the treasured historic district a viable part of the city.
“Our volunteers only recently installed beautiful fall decorations in the historic area of the city and they continue to do all that they can to help the merchants who bring visitors to the Antique District. The coronavirus has created real challenges for our merchants, but they have worked hard to keep their business open and they have enjoyed the support of local shoppers and many others who have come from other states and even some foreign countries to visit our historic downtown,” she said.
Jennings explained that Main Street Denham Springs is an organization dedicated to preserving the history and promoting the downtown area as a tourism destination. She said that Main Street Denham Springs is an accredited and certified Louisiana Main Street District. The group was certified by the state in 1999 and has since focused its efforts on the historic district. The Main Street Denham Springs area is bounded by Centerville Street, Hummel Street, and Railroad Avenue with the southbound lanes of La. 16 running through the center of the district. At the heart of the area is the Antique Village, a collection of antique shops, boutique service outlets, a bookstore and small eating establishments.
Standing near the railroad tracks that are at the Southern end of the Antique Village, Jennings looks up the street and exclaims, “just look at these lovely old buildings. We have to preserve this…we can’t let this turn into strip malls, condos or something else. Our city started on River Road and the commercial heart of the city moved into what has become our historic district. We have to preserve this so that we can keep a sense of where our city came from as we ponder where it is going in the future,’ she said.
One way to assure that the area will be save is to maintain a healthy business climate in the district and Main Street Denham Springs works with the Downtown Merchants’ Association and other groups to keep the area alive and vibrant.
Two highlights of commercial activity in the Antique Village are the Spring and Fall Festivals when more than 100 vendors fill Range Road, also known as Highway 16, with booths selling a wide selection of items ranging from arts and crafts, apparel, home made food items, and various services. The festivals attract approximately 10,000 visitors who also spend considerable time perusing items in the antique and other shops that line the thoroughfare.
Because of the virus both festivals had to be canceled this year, Jennings said, creating a financial blow to the merchants and making the promotion of the historic district even more challenging. “We have not stopped trying to find creative ways to keep the focus on the historic district and the Antique Village. For example, on Saturday, Oct. 3, we helped promote what was named the Customer Appreciation Day. The day featured sidewalk sales, free jambalaya and water and other amenities for our visitors. This is what we do. Our great volunteers provide decorations, benches, garbage cans, and other things that help attract visitors to the district. We work together to keep this part of our city alive and relevant,” she said.
Jennings said that Main Street Denham Springs works with other agencies and commissions in its preservation and promotion initiatives. For example, Main Street works with the city’s Historic Commission on such things as preservation of the Old City Hall Museum which is a major attraction in the historic district. “We were instrumental in bringing the Smithsonian Museum’s Waterways exhibit to the Old City Hall two years ago. That exhibit was a big hit and brought many visitors to the museum and the city. Just one more way we try to help,” she said.
Main Street Denham Springs is also at the forefront of the month-long Christmas in the Village experience. Every year, elaborate and extensive decorations fill the area and especially at what is known as the train station in the historic district. Jennings, along with Joan LeBlanc and crews from the Denham Springs government office, are responsible for the decorations. Celebrating Christmas is a shared experience, Jennings explains. For example, the Denham Springs Kiwanis Club sponsors the annual Christmas parade and the lighting of the city’s official Christmas tree. Others work on a new tradition, the lighting of the Old City Hall Museum. The Merchants Association holds the popular Chef’s Evening. Students Against Destructive Decisions (SAAD) present a Christmas pageant on the Railroad Station Stage.
Main Street Denham Springs is involved in one way or another with all of the activities, especially promotion of the events.
“Christmas has been an awesome, unbelievable experience for the past several years. Everyone is so happy and the events just seem to bring smiles to everyone’s faces. It’s such a great time and it always makes me so happy to see the smiles on mama and daddy’s faces when the children see the lights and Santa Claus and everything else. The joy that is evident makes all the work worthwhile,” Jennings said. Continuing efforts to curtail the coronavirus will put a damper on this year’s holiday celebration and Jennings said that all government mandates relative to the virus will be honored.
Jennings added that at this time the decorations will certainly go up and she urges residents and visitors to take the time to enjoy the colorful displays. However, some of the other activities will probably not be held this year. “We will have the Christmas Open House in the stores in the Antique Village on the day after Thanksgiving and we will have the popular Chef’s Evening when the stores offer wine and food tastings. There will, of course, be some restrictions because of the virus. We are working on some ‘pop up’ events but we will just have to wait and see what we will be allowed to do following mandates from the state government. We want to assure that everyone stays safe,” she explained.
She said that the Old City Hall Museum is open with some restrictions and encourages visits to the facility. She also pointed out that a wealth of information about Main Street Denham Springs, the Merchants Association, the Antique Village and other facets of the Historic Downtown area are available through electronic media outlets such as Facebook and the internet.
“Main Street Denham Springs is not about one person…it is members of our committee, the merchants, and so many others who are committed to preserving what is so special to our city. It is everybody working together. It is our sponsors, especially Pelican State Credit Union that sponsors the festivals along with others. All of us who are committed to this effort realize that if we want the Historic Downtown area to be here for many more years then we must constantly work to make it happen. It is a labor of love and it come swath the reward of knowing that we are doing something very good for our community. We have so many good people in Denham Springs and we rely on that good will. We welcome those who might wish to help us make the historic district continue to be such an important part of our city.” she said.