How a Small, Rural Community Thrives with a Strong Main Street

How a Small, Rural Community Thrives with a Strong Main Street

There’s something special about Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. A rural community with only 3,000 residents, Wellsboro is small—but beloved. It’s the kind of place where one of the only independent, family-owned department stores in the country can still thrive, and it’s a hometown where high school classmates return to build their own business. By all accounts, the local spirit is alive and well in Wellsboro.

Local pride pumps through Wellsboro—and it’s easy to see why. For a small town, this community has a lot to offer. Wellsboro is home to Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon, a 45-mile gorge that features hiking trails, scenic views and majestic waterfalls. Every winter, Wellsboro hosts a sled dog challenge that runs for 18 miles through the canyon. Downtown, Wellsboro maintains quaint, gas-lit streets that look more like historic New England than rural Pennsylvania. These streets are lined by family businesses, some of which date back generations.

Dunham’s Department Store first opened in downtown Wellsboro more than 100 years ago. Originally a small grocery store, the family business has evolved over the course of four generations, overcoming a devastating fire, the Great Depression and other challenges. Now, in the age of big-box and online retail, Dunham’s Department Store represents a beacon of independence in an increasingly homogenized market. Its familial atmosphere and friendly customer service have made it a cornerstone of the Wellsboro community, and residents have shown their support in big ways. Most recently, Dunham’s Department Store was named a quarterfinalist for the 2019 Indie Award.

Just around the corner from Dunham’s Department Store, From My Shelf Books & Gifts has received similar praise. The locally owned retailer opened in 2006 after Kevin and Kasey Coolidge crossed paths back in their hometown of Wellsboro. Kevin and Kasey went to high school together, but then went their separate ways. When they both wound up back in Wellsboro and shared a passion for books, they decided to join forces in business. That passion has enriched the entire community, treating Wellsboro to thousands of books, unique gifts and engaging events. From My Shelf Books & Gifts was also nominated for the 2019 Indie Award and has placed among the top 10 three times in recent years.

Supporting small businesses like Dunham’s Department Store, From My Shelf Books & Gifts and Wellsboro’s other gems is a strong Main Street network. The Wellsboro Area Chamber of Commerce boasts more than 300 members, a whopping 10 percent of the entire population. Thanks to this active small business community, Wellsboro’s Main Street is filled with seasonal festivals and year-round activities. In fact, Wellsboro Main Street was a quarterfinalist in the 2019 America’s Main Streets Contest.

These successes are more than just rankings. They’re a testament to the power of a strong small business community and Main Street. The recognition earned by Wellsboro Main Street, From My Shelf Books & Gifts and Dunham’s Department Store aren’t a coincidence. They’re the result of hard work by local leaders, entrepreneurs and residents. Wellsboro is a small but special community that shows what local businesses can do.

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