What does the Term "Main Street" Mean?

Ron Marr
Ron Marr
Main Street often refers to local businesses and the working class.
Main Street often refers to local businesses and the working class.

The term “Main Street” has had a variety of meanings over the years. For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, it referred to the name of a public thoroughfare that ran through the central retail district of a village, town, or city. This was a much-desired location for a business, primarily due to a high rate of customer traffic. The name was particularly popular in the United States, although in Canada and England similar avenues were respectively known as “Front Street” and “High Street.”

Over time, the idea of a blue collar worker turned into "main street," a representation of the hardworking common man.
Over time, the idea of a blue collar worker turned into "main street," a representation of the hardworking common man.

Since the 1970s, the term has largely become a cliché, at least in the United States. Many “Main Streets” no longer contain the majority of retail outlets, as these businesses have moved to outlying suburbs or are concentrated in shopping malls. Still, “Main Street” continues to hold something of a nostalgic reference. In 2009, the allusion is not so much to a business district as it is to the financial welfare of small businesses or those people in medium to low income brackets.

Many major retailers have moved from the central Main Street of cities to suburban shopping malls.
Many major retailers have moved from the central Main Street of cities to suburban shopping malls.

In the United States presidential race of 2008, there were very few candidates who did not integrate the words “Main Street” into their speeches or campaign platforms. The predominant message that the candidates attempted to illustrate was a contrast between “Wall Street” and “Main Street.” This usage was utilized in response to times of economic recession, and the intent was a comparison between wealthy securities traders and the average man on the street. Those seeking election to any public office soon noticed the oratorical tool, and almost immediately individuals running for gubernatorial or Congressional seats adopted the phrase as well.

Thus, the meaning of “Main Street” has evolved into a de facto reference to any American citizen who falls into the lower or middle-class financial categories. It is now meant to serve as a designation for small business owners or the working class, many of whom were formally known as “blue collar” workers. The term has, to a large degree, replaced earlier phrases such as “the Heartland” or “Average Joe,” which were formerly in vogue amongst politicians and policy makers.

“Main Street” connotes a strong link to the past, which has made it a powerful rhetorical slogan loaded with semantic imagery. The Walt Disney Company continues to highlight “Main Street USA” themes at Disneyland in Anaheim, CA., Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fl., and at both Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong. The “Main Street” areas of these entertainment centers sport the appearance of a small town in the early 20th century.

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We have gone to Disney World in Florida more than once. Of all the exciting things there are to do there, my kids still love to watch the Main Street parade.

Every day they have this parade with a lot of the major Disney characters going down their Main Street singing and dancing to familiar tunes.

Even as my kids got older, they still liked to take time away from the rides to watch this popular parade.

The last time we were there and saw the parade my son commented, "This really is the happiest place on earth." It was hard to walk away from that parade not feeling energized.

Main Streets remind me of a simpler time where life was not so hectic and crazy. I think that is part of what Disney tries to capture when they have this parade.


I grew up in a small Midwestern town of around 200 people. This is the type of town where everybody knows everybody else and there isn't much going on for the most part.

Our small town did have a Main Street where every business in the town was located. On one side of the street was the bank, a grocery store, tavern and a sporting goods store that didn't stay in business very long.

At other times throughout the years there would be a cafe on Main Street, but I don't think the owners ever made enough to live on. They didn't seem to stay in business for very long.

The other side of main street had our post office, fire department, gas station and community building. Other than a horse arena, elevator and small city park, that is all there was in our town besides the houses.

Every year we had a parade on July 4th and that was the only time of year I can remember our Main Street being crowded. Usually it was pretty deserted after about 5:00 pm except for a few cars at the tavern.

There is something nostalgic about an old Main Street like this. Every time I make a trip home, I still like to take a drive down Main Street just to see if anything has changed.


I will probably always qualify as a member of “Main Street.” I work in one of the poorest states in the nation as a graphic designer, and it doesn't seem like any company around here is willing to pay top dollar.

I am on the low end of the payscale. I make less than $25,000 a year, though some designers make up to $50,000.

I don't want to move to a bigger city or richer state, because my family is here. That's why I think I will never lose my “Main Street” status. I don't feel that this is a particularly bad thing, though, because everyone I know is classified in the same category.


This term has a double meaning in my town. Most of the average, blue-collar workers make their living at small businesses that are actually located on Main Street.

The town views the area as quaint, and the residents support these businesses by shopping there instead of at larger chain stores and restaurants. For instance, there is a sushi place on Main Street that is run by two Japanese men, and there is also a much larger one in the bigger part of town. However, those who live nearby give the one on Main Street their business, because they strongly believe in supporting small businesses.

Also, there are two gift shops in the area. The one on Main Street sees more business than the one just off the highway, because it is run by two women who put their heart and soul into the work and charge less for their products. You really will find more unique items at this location, because it doesn't get its supplies from a big company.


@orangey03 – That sounds about like what happened to the businesses on my Main Street. It is so sad to see the center of town fade away like that.

Many residents of my town relied on a branch of a bank that had been in business on Main Street for decades. Last year, this bank decided to close this location, because it wasn't seeing enough business to justify its costs of operation.

The residents, especially the elderly, were outraged. They did not want to have to drive twenty miles to get to the other branch. Many of them switched to another bank nearby instead.

When businesses decide to move off Main Street to what they think will be a more lucrative location, they should take their customers' feelings into account. They could be harming themselves by what the customers deem a betrayal.


I grew up on Central Street, which intersected Main Street. I often walked to Main Street by myself, because my mother would give me money to buy a soda and a candy bar from the grocery store there.

That grocery store still exists today, though many other businesses have come and gone. I believe that the Main Street Grill is still in business, but several furniture stores, funeral homes, and clothing stores have gone bankrupt there.

This is all thanks to a major highway leading to a bigger city right off Main Street. That's where you will find big name department stores and huge supermarkets.


@turquoise-- Main Street and Wall Street is also used to talk about different aspects of the economy. Main Street is used to talk about economy as in firms and companies producing and selling, etc. Wall Street is used to talk about the invisible part of the economy just like the selling and buying of stocks and investments at Wall Street. It's just a way to help regular Americans understand it without talking about technical definitions.

I personally use "main street" when I'm talking about small town American values versus the city and city ideals and values.


@hamje32 - Yeah, I am not exactly anti Wall Street myself, but I did think it was inappropriate for CEOs to get golden parachutes worth millions of dollars as their companies imploded in 2008 and 2009. That will never set well with me.

As an average Joe, if I was ever CEO I would hope to set a better example, whether I succeeded or failed in the business. We need more Main street CEOs is what I’m saying.


We still have a Main street in the more historic part of our city. There you will find a Main street hotel, cafes and so forth. A lot of the establishments are very old and a stroll down Main street is a stroll down yesteryear.

It’s a place to go if you want some nostalgia, but despite its name there is not a lot of activity or bustling about.

I am more familiar with the metaphor of “Main street” mentioned in the article. In that sense of the term, that’s where I live all the time since I am a middle class guy living in middle America.

The one exception that I take is to the so called battle between Wall street and Main street. I’ve never bought into that class warfare rhetoric, because most of us Main street folks work for publicly traded companies, or own mutual funds with Wall street investments in them.


I saw an article in the paper the other day and the title was "Socialism for Wall Street, Capitalism for Main Street."

I was a bit confused about the title at first. I don't know how I managed to never hear the term "Main Street" used in politics before. From the article I could infer what it meant for the most part though. The article was talking about how the government gives a lot of leeway and economic support to large businesses, banks and the like but not to regular tax payers.

So it was implying that the government always watches out for the wealthy but leaves the regular folks to fend for their own. I think the title is really good, it's a good metaphor.


I'm from Ames, Iowa and the street which used to be the main street of town is literally called "Main Street." It's the name of the street itself and it really used to be the street where most of the shops were.

It's not exactly the center of town now but it hasn't completely been taken off the map either. Main street has cafes, shops and restaurants and people do park and walk around there on the weekends, go shopping and go for a meal. Of course there are lots of other places where that happens as well. But I'm happy that we're able to maintain our Main Street for the most part.

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    • Main Street often refers to local businesses and the working class.
      By: JackF
      Main Street often refers to local businesses and the working class.
    • Over time, the idea of a blue collar worker turned into "main street," a representation of the hardworking common man.
      By: stillkost
      Over time, the idea of a blue collar worker turned into "main street," a representation of the hardworking common man.
    • Many major retailers have moved from the central Main Street of cities to suburban shopping malls.
      By: gemenacom
      Many major retailers have moved from the central Main Street of cities to suburban shopping malls.