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New direction for Marengo Main Street

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(Monica Maschak - mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
Adam Johnson, 24, in downtown Marengo.

MARENGO – By most standards, Marengo is a small, rural city with its population of about 7,600.

But to Adam Johnson, it's a big little town.

Johnson became executive director of Marengo Main Street last month after holding the same position in Pittsfield. Located about an hour outside of Springfield in Pike County, Pittsfield has about half Marengo's population.

"I know when people think about the idea of a small town, it's a lot different up here than it is down there," Johnson said.

Administered by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity in partnership with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, the goal of the Main Street program is to revitalize traditional downtowns and business districts.

Marengo began participating in 2008; Crystal Lake is also a designated Main Street community.

Johnson, 24, worked for several newspapers and radio stations in St. Louis after studying journalism and communications in college.

He worked for the Pittsfield Main Street program for about 18 months before making the move to Marengo.

"There are a lot of similarities in the towns, right down to the businesses and the some of the people," Johnson said. "It's kind of uncanny about some of the personalities of the owners. You talk with one and say, 'OK, that's the Marengo version of this person.' "

Pittsfield was the county seat and home to the county's courthouse with a downtown square as opposed to a strip like Marengo, Johnson said.

But in comparison, Marengo has a lot more traffic with Routes 176, 20, and 23 connecting in town.

Johnson said he feels like he came to Marengo at a good time.

"As I told someone before, I think they have found the right time to invest in Marengo," he said. "Which is now, honestly. There are several business owners who have ties to the city [of Chicago] that have ended up here for a change of pace."

But there also is a solid base of homegrown businesses to provide structure, which Johnson wants to continue to encourage.

One method of doing that is through the idea of an "incubator" business start up project, where several small businesses share the same space to help share start up costs. Once business picks up, they'll catapult into their own space, Johnson said.

"It's a good starting ground for a lot of people who have kicked around the idea of having their own business, but haven't really felt totally comfortable to commit," he said. "There are a couple of people I've already met who I see as ideal candidates for something like that because they're really sitting on the fence."

The Main Street organization itself is doing a lot of changing, too, Johnson said.

"That's kind of what bringing me in up here symbolizes," he said. "A lot of people on the original board of directors are looking for a different direction for us to go and a lot of new business owners have recently arrived who have really jumped on board and lent a hand."

About Marengo Main Street

Marengo Main Street is a not-for-profit, volunteer-based organization dedicated to preserving and promoting the downtown area. The goal is to stimulate community pride, preserve historic buildings, and keep businesses in business. For more information, call 815-568-8440

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