Posted on: Monday - Aug 31, 2015

It’s been less than twelve weeks since Britney and Wes Wilkerson opened their shop on Lebanon’s square. Wilkie’s Outfitters boasts a brand new, renovated exterior and a beautiful interior brimming with outdoor clothing, supplies and accessories for men and women.

“Our push is to shop local. We wanted something where people could park their car and be able to walk,” says Britney Wilkerson, who has spent the past fourteen years as a special education teacher in Wilson County.

The Wilkersons join a centuries long tradition of retail in Lebanon’s square.

“Lebanon was founded in 1802, and it was founded with the auction of town lots to create our square,” explains Kim Parks, the executive director of Historic Lebanon. “So it’s always been the heart of the city.” 

As the heart of the city, Parks is working with people all over the Lebanon and Wilson County community to keep the square’s unique vibrancy thriving. A crucial part of that is Lebanon’s designation as a Tennessee Main Street Community in September 2013.

“I think it has given Lebanon focus, which is important, because we have to keep things focused. It’s a goal for people each year,” adds Parks. “You can track your progress, which we hadn’t been doing before as far as new businesses. I think it’s all economically driven, so this is a good way to talk about your return on investment. It gives you those tools to do that.” 

Lebanon is one of 28 designated Main Street program communities across Tennessee. Tennessee Main Street is a coordinating partner with the National Main Street Center. Designated communities are required to meet national accreditation standards annually, which include illustrating broad-based community support for the program, development of a comprehensive work plan, a sufficient operating budget and professional staff with volunteer support.

“The accreditation adds seriousness to your purpose,” says Parks, “It adds clout and I think that was one of the main reasons we wanted to be part of the Tennessee Main Street.”

Since becoming a Main Street Community, Parks points to a number of improvements to the Lebanon square, one of the most important being a complete reworking of the traffic flow, additional parking in the corners of the square, as opposed to around the middle and crosswalks. All of these changes were made possible through a safety grant from the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

Parks points out, “During our square project, we had three new businesses open on the square. Property has changed hands on the square right before and during the construction that hasn’t changed hands in years. So there’s a lot of excitement about where Lebanon is going to go.”

Those improvements are also part of what spurred the Wilkersons to become business owners.

“We were looking for something on the square, because we knew the square was going to be redone,” explains Britney.

Wilkie’s Outfitters sits in between two antique shops and near a barbershop and a men’s shoe store.

“The square is up and coming,” adds Britney. “We hope that us redoing the front of ours will make other business owners on the square do a facelift on their building and hopefully get a restaurant or a coffee shop or a sandwich shop if we keep our fingers crossed.”

With a vibrant exterior to match the spirit of the square that Parks believes always existed, Lebanon’s square is poised for continued growth.

Parks has her sights set on further developing Lebanon’s brand and marketing that more aggressively, as well as building a large pavilion on the square that could house concerts and community events.

“I think we need to set the bar really high and that’s what I’m always pushing for,” says Parks. “I think we’ve done a lot of things. I think we’re right on the verge to getting to where a lot of people envisioned us to.”

Because after all, Parks believes a thriving Main Street isn’t just good for that specific community; it’s good for the entire state. 

“A vibrant downtown core retains your local tax dollars, because people want to shop here, and it also increases your tourism tax dollars, the temporary taxpayers, which everyone wants,” reasons Parks. “You have to have something to draw them in, but you have to have it to draw your locals in, too. It’s important both ways.” 

Main Street communities are proven drivers of economic development. In 2014, certified Main Street communities generated more than $95 million of public/private investment and created more than 1,500 new jobs.

For Parks, that’s just more proof that Lebanon is on the right track and the best is yet to come.  “I’m most excited about new stores opening and seeing people really excited to be there.”

Visit the Historic Lebanon and Tennessee Main Street Program websites for more information. 

Kim Parks, Executive Director, Historic Lebanon
Britney Wilkerson, Wilkie’s Outfitters