‘Don’t walk, run!’: Emporia brewery owner’s business booming with state ‘Main Street’ program

Capitol Bureau

TOPEKA (KSNT) — An Emporia business owner is applauding a recently expanded state economic development program for keeping his business up and running, especially during the pandemic.

Jeremy Johns, co-owner of Radius Brewing Company, said the state’s “Main Street” program has been ‘proactive’ in providing the support his brewpub needs to stay afloat.

“A lot of times, businesses don’t know what kind of help they need, and Main Street reaches out to us and says, ‘Hey, we see this coming up, how can we help? Here are some things that might be helpful for you…,'” Johns said.

Emporia is one of 28 designated communities under the Main Street program, which is expanding to three new communities in 2022.

Johns said he’s witnessed the benefits of the program first-hand, as he recounted the initial stages of getting Radius Brewing “off the ground.” The entrepreneur said the restaurant and pub started as a mere idea one night, between him and his friend, co-owner and executive chef “Gus” Bays. However, the entrepreneur said it would’ve never taken off without Main Street’s help.

“We were sitting around drinking some home-brew one night, and he said, ‘hey, I’m thinking about opening up my own restaurant.’ Gus and I, neither one of us had any experience with opening a business. Didn’t have a clue where to even start,” he said. “Without Main Street’s intervention, we probably would’ve never got past the dreaming phase.”

According to Johns, their local Main Street partner in Emporia, helped “make [their idea] work.”

Casey Woods, executive director of Emporia Main Street, said the program has also helped local businesses adapt, and prepare for major changes during the pandemic.

“We found ways to provide grants to businesses. We found ways to provide training for businesses that needed to shift online or do curbside delivery,” Woods said.

The Kansas Main Street program, originally launched in 1985, and has helped many, mostly rural communities by investing hundreds of millions of dollars into building stronger downtown areas. According to Kayla Savage, who works closely with the program at the Kansas Department of Commerce, it’s helped bring communities together, providing activities for people to enjoy.

“It’s important to make sure that we’re taking care of those buildings and those places, and the people who are using them,” she said.

The program was ended by the Brownback administration in 2012 and brought back under Governor Kelly’s administration in late 2019. To expand the program’s reach and bring similar tools to more communities, the Affiliate Community program was created in 2020, now hosting 37 Kansas communities. Affiliate Community members are able to send up to four people to the same quarterly trainings offered to Designated Kansas Main Street communities. Anyone, including individuals, businesses, and civic organizations, are able to join the Affiliate Program.

The Governor announced last week that the program will now be adding three more Designated communities. Savage told Kansas Capitol Bureau that the pandemic has provided a new perspective on the importance of investing in local businesses.

“When we were not allowed to gather, and be in crowds, and be in events, and get out shopping, it really showed us how important it was to support local businesses.”

For business owners, like Jeremy Johns at Radius Brewing, he said he’s hoping the expansion will help other businesses across the state and his community as well.

“Don’t walk… run down to the Main Street office and tell them what your idea is, and they’ll help you along the way,” he said.

Online applications to become a Main Street community will be available on December 1, 2021. Those applications will be due no later than January 31, 2022, and the new communities will be announced in mid-February.

Communities wishing to submit applications will be required to first attend the virtual application workshop, which will explain the Main Street Approach and the process for successfully completing the application. The Kansas Department of Commerce will host a virtual application workshop for any community interested in learning how to become a designated member of the downtown revitalization program at 9 a.m. Wednesday, October 27.

To register for this workshop, click here.

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December 31 2021 11:59 pm