There’s something happening in this Shelby County community that will breathe new life into their historic downtown.
by Jeana Durst, content director, JBMC Media
photos courtesy of Jackie Batson, Calera Main Street
Did you know that the city of Calera is named after the Spanish word quarry because of the numerous lime quarries in the area? This historic city of about 14,000 was established in 1887. The central location (it’s almost in the center of the state) and railroad connections made it a natural hub when shipping limestone to Birmingham for steel production. This crossroads town is now at a crossroads of change, and it’s exciting to see the progress.
At a time when many small businesses are closing because of the coronavirus pandemic, Calera recently held a triple-ribbon cutting for locally owned businesses in June at their Grand Reopening Celebration. It’s all part of their Main Street revitalization efforts. We had the chance to speak with Calera Main Street Executive Director, Jackie Batson, to learn more about what’s happening in this Shelby County community.
“We are one of 27 cities that are designated as a Main Street city in Alabama,” Baston explains. The Main Street Alabama program, which builds on the 1980s Alabama Historical Commission efforts, began in 2009. They seek to “stress public-private partnerships, broad community engagement, and strategies that create jobs, spark new investment, attract visitors, and spur growth.” The goal is to build on the authentic history and culture of towns and to bring sustainable change. Batson works for Main Street Calera, and the city of Calera is their number one sponsor and supporter. “We want to make Calera a destination,” Batson says.
On June 4, that’s exactly what happened when families gathered on Main Street for festivities, including a progressive ribbon cutting, food vendors, raffles, and fun demonstrations. While maintaining a safe social distance, kids and adults alike enjoyed kickboxing demos from the newly reopened business The Garage Kickboxing as well as others from R.O.E. Hobby and Sun Esthetics & Spa. Samplings from Adventurer’s Coffee Company (open and going strong since October 2019) and treats from the bakery Creations Galore & Moore rounded out the day. City officials attended the celebration. “We are proud to see new life being breathed into Calera’s downtown,” Mayor Jon Graham said. “It’s exciting to see buildings being renovated, new businesses moving in, and our community beginning to enjoy hanging out on Main Street.”
Batson describes why this is so important for the community of Calera. “Our focus is on the character of this town—we don’t want to lose this character,” she says. As progress moves forward, Calera Main Street will maintain homage to the city’s railroad roots. However, many things will be changing. For instance, they are working on addressing traffic issues. “We have two major roads (Highway 25 and Highway 31) that come together in downtown Calera, which is challenging from a traffic standpoint with lots of 18-wheelers on that route,” Batson says. The city is working with CSX and with the Alabama Department of Transportation to pursue a possible truck route, which could alleviate some of the problems with fast traffic near walkable spaces. In the meantime, Calera has taken their revitalization off the main roads and focused on the common green space and courtyard located directly behind the businesses on Main. “We have started with the back of the shops, and have nicknamed the back area the Calera Courtyard—it’s pedestrian-friendly and you can enter all businesses from the back door,” she says.
This downtown backyard will feature a pocket park and a playground. Plans are underway to attract restaurants and feature outdoor seating and lights and murals as well. This shared space will create even more reasons for families to bring their kids and enjoy downtown. “My favorite part about my job is creating community downtown,” Batson says. And it has certainly been a community effort so far. All of their downtown property owners are responsible for re-bricking and re-doing their façades, and Calera Main Street is recruiting sponsors while working with the city for support.
Big plans are underway. For instance, residents who remember Baer’s Department Store can look forward to its coming renovation as an event space soon. As the old meets the new, Calera Main Street promises to honor the long history with an eye toward progress and the economic vitality that small businesses usher in.
To learn more about the main street revival and the businesses on Calera’s Main Street, visit caleramainstreet.org.