SHIRLEY — Andy Ebbert fondly remembers the days when Shirley residents strolled through downtown, peering into storefronts along Main Street.
Those memories are decades old, though, and many of those downtown businesses have closed or moved away, along with many of the town’s residents.
But that’s beginning to change, said Ebbert, a lifelong local resident.
At Shirley’s 125th celebration this month, the town was recognized by the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs as a Main Street Community, a distinction that carries a potential for increased funding for revitalization efforts focusing on the downtown area. The state program, established in 1985, provides funding and support for revitalization efforts in participating communities. Since its inception, Main Street has invested more than $4.4 billion into Indiana communities and has added jobs, businesses and housing developments to the areas it serves.
Ebbert, a member of the Shirley Community Visionaries, a group of residents who led the charge to receive the award, said he hopes it will spare his community from suffering the fate of many small towns.
The community, which straddles the border with Henry County, has no state highway running through it, and its decreasing population has been marked as low- to moderate-income.
“Several rural communities are out there dying on the vine,” said Ebbert, chief of the Shirley Volunteer Fire Department. “I don’t want to see that happen here.”
He said the designation will open the door to grants and funding the town wasn’t eligible for before. In turn, he hopes that will help spur growth and support downtown businesses.
Through a lengthy application process, the visionaries had to demonstrate that the town could curry support from other residents, said Theresa Ebbert, chairwoman of the group and sister-in-law to Andy Ebbert.
To do that, the group spearheaded efforts to reinstate festivals that been conducted locally in the past, including its Founders Day and Strawberry Festival celebrations.
With access to more state funding, the visionaries hope to increase community events, Theresa Ebbert said. They also plan to apply for grants from the organization to assist remaining downtown business owners with expenses to spruce up their storefronts, she added.
“We’d like to have more opportunities for people in the community to get together,” she said. “Hopefully, we can bring some families back and develop a little more cohesiveness among the residents who are still there.”
Tami Brown and her husband own The Cabinet Door Store in downtown Shirley, which has operated out of a storefront on Main Street in downtown Shirley since 1988. In the decades since, the couple have seen most of the businesses surrounding their shop close up, she said.
Brown hopes to see the town revive the activity it once had.
“We want people to know we’re out here,” she said. “There were a bunch of businesses that brought people in from all over. Now, it’s quite a bit different.”
Andy Ebbert said he sees a happy future for the town.
“Our support is starting to snowball,” he said. “I think we’re going to see some more good changes here soon.”