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By positioning itself as a shared space for the whole community, The Space on Main has created a pathway for anyone to start something new.
In the small, rural town of Bradford, Vermont, residents were discouraged. Their Main Street had become a ghost town, and there was no entrepreneurial community to speak of.
Bradford has under 3000 residents, and serves as a hub for other rural towns nearby, all with populations around 500-800. Even though it was a central area for these smaller towns, Bradford was slowly decaying. It needed revitalization, and it needed it fast.
Residents decided to take matters into their own hands. In 2016, the local business association held a meeting to discuss whether it would even be possible for the town to survive.
At that meeting, among the strategies proposed was a shared community workspace, to boost community and entrepreneurial activity in Bradford. The residents decided that the now-defunct five-and-dime, which had been a Main Street staple since the 1950s, would be the perfect space for a revitalization project.
Monique Priestly and the old Five and Dime, which she converted into the Space on Main
Thus, The Space on Main was born. Monique Priestley, the Executive Director and founder of The Space on Main, envisioned it as a shared community space. She wanted to create a place where people would want to be, and where they could gather and connect. The Space on Main would focus on community support—entrepreneurship would follow, she hoped.
The Space on Main officially opened in 2018 as a community workspace, with event spaces and conference rooms to rent. In its first two years, the organization positioned itself as both a community hub and a coworking space. It hosted public events, films, and artisan markets, and encouraged civic engagement, economic development, and, most importantly, small business support.
That’s where CO.STARTERS came in.
Through a partnership with LaunchVT, Monique had an opportunity to bring CO.STARTERS to Bradford and saw it as the perfect opportunity to more fully support the entrepreneurial ideas in the community. CO.STARTERS’ peer-to-peer cohort model created social and business connections in the small community, and began to generate businesses to fill the vacancies on Main Street.
The Space on Main ran its first CO.STARTERS cohort in 2020, and, after a break due to the pandemic, started running cohorts again in the spring of 2022. Because Bradford is near the border of Vermont and New Hampshire, The Space on Main’s CO.STARTERS programs have drawn residents from both states, and from the surrounding rural towns. Since adopting CO.STARTERS two years ago, nearly 90 entrepreneurs have graduated from the program–the equivalent of nearly 3% of the town’s population.
Now, CO.STARTERS graduates are starting to hire employees of their own. “Since starting CO.STARTERS,” Monique explained, “the town has more energy around supporting people to start businesses, and more understanding about fostering entrepreneurship.”
“Since starting CO.STARTERS, we’ve seen more energy in the town around supporting people who want to start businesses, and more understanding about fostering entrepreneurship.”
Executive Director and Founder of The Space on Main
Since the pandemic, the community of Bradford, like others all over the country, has had a value shift around their work. They’ve become more interested in defining their own lives and investing in work-life balance. CO.STARTERS programs have allowed The Space on Main to create an entrepreneurship-focused community, with an emphasis on small and family businesses. Entrepreneurs in Bradford have pursued their dream projects, involving their families and children.
The Space on Main has created a space for community and entrepreneurial growth. The equivalent of nearly 3% of the town’s population has graduated from CO.STARTERS, and every graduate is helping to revitalize the town’s Main Street.
The success of the Space on Main and its CO.STARTERS programs has encouraged Bradford and its surrounding towns that no space is too small to be transformed by the power of communal entrepreneurship.
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