The central business district has developed over the past 300 years, with growth spurts during the turn of the last century and in the 1950’s. Architecturally, it is a mixture of styles, reflecting its slow but steady growth. Luckily, the district escaped any large scale remodeling and reconstruction efforts, except for the post office, the former town hall and a couple of other misguided modernization projects. By and large, the building facades have remained frozen in time and this is now seen as part of the charm of the district. We call it “authentic and historic”. One can trace the historic and economic growth of the district in the styles of the buildings.
In 1985, members of the Beautification Committee and Don Roe, the Town’s Economic Development Coordinator, began to look at the program called “National Main Street” which is part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation (based in Washington, DC).
In 1987, Wallingford Center, Inc. was incorporated as a private not for profit corporation and was reorganized under the National Main Street guidelines for such revitalization efforts. The Main Street program advocates preserving the historic facades and other unique features of the downtown area while also addressing other revitalization strategies such as promotion, business recruitment and retention, image enhancement, and a restoration of pride in the downtown as the heart of the community. It uses a 4-point approach: (1) Organization, (2) Economic Restructuring, (3) Promotion, and (4) Design. More detail on this program may be found in our Wallingford Center, Inc. brochure. WCI recommends this program to any and all downtown improvement groups. It works very well, and has been successful in Wallingford
WCI receives income from the Town of Wallingford and from private sources through fundraising efforts. It has a 15 member volunteer Board of Directors and currently one full time staff person. It receives support services from the Mayor of Wallingford, the Wallingford Town Council, the Wallingford Economic Development Commission, the Electric Division, the Public Works Department, the Parks and Recreation Department, and Police and Fire Services. There is a real pooling of the resources of many volunteer groups, corporations, small businesses, town departments, and town government. These resources are in the form of monetary donations and active service work.
The Mayor of Wallingford, William W. Dickinson, Jr., has been a supporter of the downtown revitalization effort from its inception, and this support cannot be under-emphasized. From 1985 to the present, the town has made extensive streetscape improvements, which include brick-lined sidewalks, ornamental trees, decorative street lamps and street furniture, and under grounding of utilities. The Historic Railroad Station has been restored, and the Railroad Green and the Parade Ground have been landscaped and accessorized. The gazebo at the Railroad Green has become a downtown focal point. The streetscape improvements have spurred many building owners to invest in facade improvements. This public/private investment partnership is one of the key elements of the program. Other decorative features have been added, including flower gardens planted and maintained by the Wallingford Garden Club, an old-fashioned wishing well replica donated by the Wallingford Wishing Well Association, banners purchased through fundraising efforts by WCI including a large donation by the Public Utilities Commission, holiday wreaths and lights funded by the town, and window decorations & window boxes paid for by the individual owners. Currently, Wallingford Center, Inc. has dressed the windows of the storefront at 156 Center Street to promote the many successful businesses in the downtown. A wonderful Victorian style clock was purchased by the American Legion Shaw-Sinon Post 73 and now stands in front of Town Hall. Pride in the town’s center has been restored and is evident in the cooperative efforts of many groups.
Along with the streetscape and facade improvements, effort is directed at the same time toward improving the economic conditions. The Wallingford Economic Development Commission works with WCI to develop development strategies such as business recruitment and retention and real estate development. The EDC and WCI offer an incentive package for new businesses that move into a vacant downtown space, as well as for existing businesses. We run ads in the local newspaper welcoming new businesses to the downtown, and the newspapers provide excellent feature articles on each and every new business.
This year, Wallingford Center, Inc. and the Economic Development Commission convened a focus group made up of a cross-section of interested downtown leaders. The group is discussing the issues facing the downtown, developing a vision for the future and working on practical goals and strategies.
We have assembled an information packet containing a list of available properties, incentives, demographics, other information, and local brochures. This is distributed to businesses, real estate firms, and to interested citizens upon request. We are also able to help businesses in many other ways through support, referrals, promotion, and group advertising. Occasionally, we produce a brochure of retail businesses in the downtown, but for the most current information, visit our facebook.
The town’s center is charming, the streetscape is lovely, and the businesses are all owner-operated, offering excellent personal service. There is a good cluster of antique shops and restaurants. Choate School (with the Paul Mellon Arts Center) is within walking distance, as are The Historic Society’s Parsons House and the future American Silver Museum. The first phase of a linear trail along the Quinnipiac River has been completed and there could be a future linkage to a walking tour of the historic downtown. In the center of the district is a 6-acre historic town cemetery. Residential neighborhoods surround the town’s center, and there are many apartment rental units in the downtown buildings and surrounding areas. There is foot traffic in the downtown.
WCI hosts Celebrate Wallingford, a 2-day festival featuring the “Taste of Wallingford”, entertainment, craft show, children’s activities, and much more, held the first weekend in October. The Gardeners' Market, a newer event held on Saturday mornings in July, August and September has been growing in popularity.