Main Street Tehachapi recently celebrated 20 years of revitalizing, restoring and breathing life back into the downtown area.

According to Charles White, treasurer and one of the nonprofit's original members, the Main Street program follows guidelines from the National Trust for Historic Preservation with a four-point program to preserve and enhance business districts. Help is given to business owners with advertising, store design, business outreach and other topics.

"Twenty years ago, downtown Tehachapi had declined over the course of years as development moved away from the core," White said.

White said the work of the Design Committee had made a fundamental impact on downtown with the renovation of the Railroad Park, from a dusty, cluttered area with no sidewalks, to the lush landscaping of today. Decorative street lighting, the designing of the Centennial Plaza and painting of buildings was also undertaken.

"Much of the vibrancy of downtown is due to Main Street's efforts by partnering with downtown businesses and the city of Tehachapi," White said. "The murals programs, a project started in the initial year of MST, was a tremendous boost to downtown and a favorite of residents."

White said that, throughout the years, the city has supported MST's efforts by helping in planning, and providing event assistance from public works and police support.

"The hope was we would be going strong for many, many years," said Linda Carhart, former board member and former interim director. "Revitalizing downtown in the early days of Main Street was a very important issue because all the signs that you see downtown and the updated facades on the buildings were all funded or helped to be funded by grants from Main Street."

According to Carhart, Main Street originally received a good portion of its monies through redevelopment funding through the state.

Said Carhart, "Because of ... that being the main purpose for Main Street, we got a major portion of redevelopment funds through the city."

Carhart said MST used to receive $75,000 a year from the city from redevelopment funds. However, redevelopment funds were later eliminated by Gov. Jerry Brown.

When Michelle Vance was first hired as the former executive director for MST, she said, downtown Tehachapi had just gone through the biggest redevelopment in its history, including new lighting, sidewalks, roads and crosswalks.

"Basically, my job was to get people to come downtown," said Vance, who was with MST for four years starting at its 10-year mark. "We had this gorgeous downtown, and it was time to fill it up with people."

In order to regenerate what was lost in redevelopment funding, Vance said she created fun and entertaining events, such as the wine walks and a chili cook-off. Today, MST hosts annual events, including the Wine and Chocolate Walk, Ugly Sweater Wine Walk, Sip Sip Hooray, Trunk or Treat and the Farmers Market during the summer months.

"You need healthy businesses, you need good-looking businesses and you need a promotion to bring people downtown," Vance said.

According to White, MST has recently provided $20,000 in grants to downtown businesses for facade improvements and repainting. Last year, $5,000 was donated to assist the city with the purchase of Christmas decorations to enhance the street lights. Funding was also provided to the Errea House Museum for the relocation of the garden.

In addition to the building of the Railroad Park and Murals program, past projects include a $5,000 donation to the Railroad Depot renovation project.

According to White, many individuals have given countless hours volunteering and local businesses have been major sponsors of MST events, providing entertainment and community events that enhance life in Tehachapi.

Said White, "The current board would like to thank all those who have helped in the past to help create our unique downtown. There is no denying that downtown Tehachapi has become a much more vibrant and entertaining area in the past two decades, with the help of Main Street Tehachapi."

Because of the efforts of many, Tehachapi today receives 300 visitors each month to its Visitor's Center, and generates $1.4 million each year through tourism.

"We have had great sponsors who have been very consistent," said President Scott Hammer. "Big Papa's has been our main sponsor for our wine walks for the past three years, so that has been super beneficial."

Other major sponsors include Mercury Graphics and Linda's Cakes 'N Things.

MST is currently an all-volunteer organization. The board is always looking to add new members with fresh ideas and a willingness to help with events and projects. For more information, visit MainStreetTehachapi.org, email infor@mainstreettehachapi.org or call 822-6519.