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Fan Merchants Plot "Main Idea"

Known for developer Ed Eck's candy-colored Uptown near Virginia Commonwealth University and speckled with galleries and Fan restaurants, the one-way, westbound street has long been a hub of activity. Now, new projects promise even more traffic. There is the conversion of the Pepsi-Cola warehouse at Main and Vine streets into shops and loft-style condos, a significant expansion at the Hand Workshop, a martini bar slated for the old Main Street Beer Co. and new plans for a Rostov's Coffee & Tea.

The Main Idea hopes to add a collective voice and sense of cohesion to the mix. It plans to do this by word-of-mouth campaigning and partnerships, says B. J. Kocen, the organization's president and an employee of Rentz Gallery & Robert Rentz Interiors.

"It's amazing to me that some people don't realize what's on Main Street," Kocen says. "And I've always seen Main Street as the heart of any city."

The concept for the group began a year ago, he says, when representatives from businesses such as Eck Enterprises, Main Art & Frame, Six Burner restaurant Uptown Gallery and others started meeting to see how they could bolster business and benefit from a coalition. So far, more than dozen businesses have joined.

An official membership drive is under way this summer. This will culminate in September with a party at Baja Bean Co. Restaurante Y Cantina.

The group's short-term goals are to raise public awareness of the corridor, to make it more pedestrian friendly and to slow vehicular traffic. Long-term, The Main Idea hopes to host its own signature events and to become an expansion site for Broad Street's popular First Fridays art walks, Kocen says.

Mark Brandon, a longtime Main Street area advocate, business owner and former president of the civic association Your Neighbors Uptown, says the group's ambitions are timely and pivotal.

"All of this is exciting because it puts the focus on the center of town" where diversity thrives, Brandon says. It's also in step with an "engaged and all-of-a-sudden" push by the nearby 3rd Precinct to reduce crime in the area, he says, most notably the "honeycomb" pocket near Meadow and Cary streets.

Meantime, The Main Idea will work to bring a sense of community to Main Street, Kocen says, adding: "You can just see it on a person's face like the guy selling apples who shines it on his shirt and tosses it to you." — Brandon Walters

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