WORCESTER — Laura Perez-Garcia is a Main South veteran.
She has lived in the neighborhood for 16 years and owns Voltage Fashion Boutique in the heart of Main South at 834 Main St.
With all those Main South years under her belt, Perez-Garcia fully understands the stigma some have about the neighborhood.
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Yes, there is crime and poverty, social ills that exist in the inner core of many cities.
Worcester police report total crime numbers in Main South that reflect the periods January through November 2020 and January through November 2021: three homicides, 219 aggravated assaults, 297 drug/narcotic violations, 191 simple assaults,141 weapon law violations and 132 disorderly-conduct incidents.
But there is also vibrancy in Main South, with a rich cultural diversity that has much to offer.
“We want that stigma of decades Main South has, give it another look, a new look,” said Perez-Garcia.
That new look comes courtesy of colorful street banners on light poles that went up last month — 52 in all. They line Main Street from the Chandler/Main street intersection to Webster Square.
Stickers on storefronts with a “quick response” code that links a mobile phone to a new website — meetmainsouth.org — is another feature.
Snazzy swag, including clothing with a Main South look, is also on the way for purchase through the Main South Community Development Corp.
It’s all part of a branding campaign two years in the making.
Officially called the Main South TDI Partnership Branding Initiative, it’s touted as the city’s largest public banner project.
TDI stands for Transformative Development Initiative, a relevant acronym because in 2018 the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency designated a section of Main South a TDI district.
That set the wheels in motion for MassDevelopment to work with Main South residents, businesses, organizations and City Hall to develop a branding message that highlights the community as an inviting destination.
MassDevelopment kicked in $30,000 to help fund the effort.
“I think it’s fabulous. It’s a new outlook for Main South,” said Perez-Garcia.
The word “Here” is central to the branding effort. It appears on all 52 banners and storefront stickers, with phrases like “Shop Here,” “Eat Here” and “Live Here.”
Some banners are in foreign languages, reflecting the melting-pot nature of Main South.
“It’s very important in order to change the negative perception Main South has attached to it,” said Maritza Cruz, co-chair of the Main South Beacon Brightly Neighborhood Association.
Cruz has deep roots in Main South.
She grew up there; her late mother Concepcion Cruz was a community leader who lived in the same Main South house for 43 years; and Cruz has many family members who still live in the neighborhood.
Chock-full of community gardens, and what Cruz called some of the most beautiful architecture in the city, she believes it’s time for others to recognize Main South’s many attractions.
“When some people hear Main South, they go, ‘Ugh,’” Cruz said. “They have a perception of a negative place where bad things happen.
“We need to change that, to recognize the vibrant neighborhood where people and families, elders and businesspeople are proud of their neighborhood. We want others to see that.”
Positive branding is a plus for Main South, but Perez-Garcia and others believe the city must continue to pump resources into the neighborhood to keep it on an upward social and economic trajectory.
More specifically, Cruz said Main South can’t continue to be the city’s depository for social service agencies and affordable housing.
Other neighborhoods must take on some of the responsibility.
Lodging houses are another issue.
Main South has more than any other neighborhood in the city, according to Cruz. So City Hall must provide services to help those residents work toward economic and social stability.
Branding is just a start to help invigorate Main South, said Casey Starr, director of community initiatives at the Main South Community Development Corp.
She mentioned efforts underway to potentially set up Main South as a pilot program for public trash cans to address the city’s litter problem.
Starr also referred to a potential partnership with the city’s public school students to design additional logos and slogans to uplift Main South spirit.
As Starr sees it, tangible branding is important because, “aesthetics matter. How a neighborhood looks matters.”
“Unfortunately, outsiders of Main South have negative perceptions,” said Starr, who lived in the neighborhood for 14 years before relocating to another part of the city. “They don’t experience how wonderful a neighborhood it is.”
Perez-Garcia not only makes her living in Main South, it’s also her home and she embraces the branding effort.
Brochures that tout Main South sit on the counter at her boutique, and a “Shop Here” sticker appears on her shop’s front door.
“The stigma is Main South is scary for decades,” Perez-Garcia said. “Issues with gangs, shootings, substance abuse, sale of substances, street workers.
“Longtime residents of the community have fought to end all of these activities…It’s a new Main South.”
Contact Henry Schwan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @henrytelegram