ONANCOCK, Va. (Delmarva Now) — Anyone interested in Onancock's future can weigh in by filling out a survey before Sept. 5.
The opinions of residents and visitors alike are being sought by a group of volunteers with the Main Street Onancock project.
People who come to town to work, shop, dine or for any other purpose also are welcome to participate in the survey.
"Your impression, what you're utilizing there, what you find pleasurable about being there — that impression will be unique, and that's why we want visitors from far away, from nearby," said Janet Fosque, one of four volunteers working on the initiative, along with Catherine Krause, Barbara Johnsen and Karin Rush-Monroe.
It is designed to be an inclusive process, they say.
Visitors to town, and "even people from other parts of the Shore who come to Onancock, maybe, to do business — we want that perspective," said Rush-Monroe, noting that she is an Onancock resident now, but "I was a visitor first."
The 15-question survey, which is anonymous, is online at www.surveymonkey.com/r/onancockcommunity.
Additionally, paper surveys are available in many businesses around town, including at the Onancock Market on Saturday mornings.
It includes questions such as what are the three things that bring you to Onancock most often; what types of businesses would you like to see come to town; and what should be priority projects for community development should funding become available, among others.
The information gathered will be brought to one or more interactive strategic visioning sessions to be held starting in the fall.
A separate survey for business owners in town already has been done.
Founded in 1680 as Port Scarborough, Onancock's historic district includes commercial, residential, church and school buildings of various architectural styles, spanning the late 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, according to a description submitted in the 1990s to the National Register of Historic Places.
Still, a number of downtown buildings that formerly housed businesses, including clothing stores, a hardware store and a drugstore, among others, now sit vacant — it's been a longstanding problem for the town.
Additionally, Onancock has an active wharf that is in walking distance of downtown — "and that's kind of unusual and also makes us ... pretty special," said Rush-Monroe.
"It's not the only reason for our existence, but it's a huge part of our lifeblood," said Fosque.
The Virginia Main Street program, a program of the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, helps communities like Onancock create a vision and develop strategies to bring new life to their downtown.
In three decades, the Virginia Main Street program has helped revitalize more than three dozen communities — including Culpeper, Franklin, Ashland, Bedford, Harrisonburg and Lynchburg, among others.
The program has 20 designated Main Street communities and 70 commercial district affiliates at present.
Historic commercial districts that are interested in using the Main Street approach are eligible to become DHCD Commercial District Affiliate Partners — Onancock currently is an affiliate.
"The Holy Grail is being named a designated Main Street town," said Rush-Monroe.
Johnsen likened the designation to a product receiving the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.
Cape Charles, another waterfront Eastern Shore town, launched its Main Street program about two years ago and has since welcomed more than a dozen new businesses to its historic downtown district.
The Virginia program is one of 39 state programs in the United States as of 2015, serving more than 1,000 local communities.
The national program began in 1977 when the National Trust for Historic Preservation initiated a pilot program to revitalize historic downtowns that had declined in the decades since the 1950s.
Local Main Street groups function as private, nonprofit organizations.
The focus is to use existing buildings from a bygone era to create a vibrant downtown.
What the state program can do for localities is provide advice, training, and even financial assistance throughout the process.
A meeting held in March to introduce the Virginia Main Street program to residents and business owners in Onancock attracted around 80 people — a significant showing for the small town of 1,266.
The four volunteers attended a statewide conference for Virginia Main Street this summer in Harrisonburg.
"It was fascinating to be able to meet people from towns that have pretty new programs, like us, and a little bit past new, like Cape Charles ... and then to meet people (whose) program is 30 years old," said Johnsen.
One takeaway from the conference? "The big emphasis is on inclusion; you really go out of your way to bring in groups of people that maybe have not been active in town," Johnsen said.
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