Heart of Biddeford, the local organization that helps make Biddeford downtown vibrant, is the winner of the Great American Main Street Award, one of three given to communities across the country annually by the Main Street America organization. Tammy Wells Photo

BIDDEFORD — This city is a winner, people say these days — in recent years, many have contributed to creating a reinvigorated downtown in Biddeford, one that honors the city’s past, and looks ahead to its future.

The hard work and determination of the remaking of Biddeford’s city center was recognized on Monday, May 16, when the Heart of Biddeford learned it had received the prestigious Great American Main Street Award, which recognizes communities for their excellence in comprehensive preservation-based commercial district revitalization. The award is given by the Main Street America organization.

Selected by a national jury of community development professionals and leaders in economic development and historic preservation, Heart of Biddeford, the city’s downtown revitalization organization, is being recognized for fostering a vibrant small business environment and commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Delilah Poupore is executive director of Heart of Biddeford. The organization was recognized Monday with a Great American Main Street Award, one of three given nationally. Courtesy Photo

“This is a huge honor for Heart of Biddeford, and we accept this award on behalf of thousands of volunteers, our municipal, cultural and service partners, and the business community,” said Delilah Poupore, executive director of Heart of Biddeford. “While we hope to become more inclusive and sustainable over time, we are very proud of our efforts to innovate during challenging times and to work in a connected way toward a common vision.”

Main Street America President and CEO Patrice Frey said Biddeford proves that equity and inclusion are the future of the Main Street movement.

“Their work with Black-owned businesses, formerly-incarcerated people, English Language Learners, and other groups has enriched the culture of the district and brought lasting economic change,” Frey said.


Additional points that have earned Heart of Biddeford GAMSA status include its commitment to historic preservation and community-based efforts that share the full story of their community and reinforce the sense of place that makes Biddeford unique.

Heart of Biddeford’s partnerships with former mill workers and “Secret Spaces, Hidden Places” mill district tours ensure future generations understand and appreciate the city’s heritage, said the Main Street America organization. Façade improvement grants and small-scale development projects provide investments in the city’s future by transforming once neglected spaces into attractive places to live and work.

“Isn’t this great news? Fantastic!” said Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant in an email. “For the past five or six years, Biddeford, time and time again, has been in the news because of the rebirth of the downtown, aka the ‘Biddesance.’ The Heart of Biddeford, under the leadership of Delilah Poupore, has been foundational in the new vitality and transformation. HOB and its many incredible volunteers have believed in this community and its possibilities for years, and this award is the ultimate recognition that the city’s renaissance is real, that it is sustainable, and that the Biddeford downtown is a jewel of diversity, variety, engagement, economic growth, all in a family friendly environment. ”

Heart of Biddeford’s continued success is made possible through its commitment to creating places of shared prosperity, equal access to opportunity, and inclusive engagement across all four points of the “Main Street Approach,” Main Street America officials said in a prepared statement. “Notable examples include partnering with veterans’ organizations to host parades downtown, hosting monthly meet-ups for female entrepreneurs, collaborating with Black Owned Maine to increase the organization’s capacity to incubate and promote Black-owned businesses in the district, and raising the inaugural Pride flag in the city,” the organization noted.

“We are so proud of Heart of Biddeford for earning a GAMSA,” said Anne Ball, program director at Maine Development Foundation. “They are an open and welcoming community and embrace their past while welcoming newcomers to their wonderful historic mill town. They are an exceptional statewide leader, and we learn from them every day.”

Biddeford was once known as “Trashtown” because of the large waste-to-energy incinerator located in the downtown mill district. The area was known for the heavy garbage trucks that regularly rolled into town and odor that was a nuisance to residents and visitors — but no more.


Revitalization work led by the Heart of Biddeford organization began in 2004, focusing on creating ways to bring people downtown through events and beautification initiatives. HOB became an accredited Main Street America program in 2007, led the Downtown Master Planning process and  was among those who successfully advocated for the closure of the incinerator. With the support of a forward-thinking City Council and city staff, redevelopment of the historic mill district into residential and commercial spaces contributed to the positive transformation of downtown, Main Street America officials said. Today the district’s 4.5 percent commercial vacancy rate is a point of pride and a major improvement compared to 20.7 percent in 2006.

Main Street America officials spoke of the city’s fourth generation Reilly’s Bakery, the oldest diner in Maine — the Palace Diner — and more, like a thriving park program and annual festivals.

“I started thinking about applying for this award several years ago because Biddeford has an amazing story to tell,” said Poupore in an email. “But I knew that even though we had a lot of momentum building in 2019, I wasn’t yet certain the growth was stable and sustainable. Then the pandemic actually showed a lot of the strengths of this community — and HOB played a good role in keeping people safe and connected. Receiving the GAMSA award at this time signifies that Biddeford is building a welcoming, thriving community and HOB has played a major role in that.”

Casavant said he believes the award will trigger more interest from entrepreneurs looking to invest in a “safe, thriving, and welcoming community.”

“This award demonstrates that a Main Street organization, Heart of Biddeford, when working in collaboration with private sector partners and city government, can develop downtowns that bring people together, not simply for shopping needs, but for recreation and personal interactions,” said Casavant. “America has long had the tradition of town squares, and post-pandemic, I envision downtowns as being a community’s town square, where people can interact and enjoy each other’s company.”

Poupore, who traveled to Virginia with several HOB trustees for the Main Street Now Conference, said winning the award “gives us one more reason to be proud of this place that we are revitalizing together. It also puts us on the map for visitors to Maine who seek cultural/heritage experiences in a really forward-thinking community. ”

“This award demonstrates to all that Biddeford does indeed have a big Heart, the Heart of Biddeford,” said Casavant.

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