RDA is a 2023 a Great American Main Street Award Semifinalist


One of Eight Organizations Recognized for Excellence in Transforming Downtown Districts

Danville, Virginia, September 21, 2022 – Main Street America has announced The River District Association (RDA) as a 2023 Great American Main Street Award (GAMSA) Semifinalist. This prestigious award is the nation’s top award recognizing communities for their excellence in comprehensive preservation-based commercial district revitalization. A jury of professionals and leaders in the fields of community and economic development and historic preservation convened to review a nationwide pool of applicants. After thoughtful deliberation, the jury unanimously selected eight semifinalists that demonstrate exemplary use of the Main Street Approach™ to lead community-based transformation strategies in their downtowns.

The 2023 GAMSA Semifinalists are:

River District Association – Danville, Virginia

Denison Main Street – Denison, Texas

Downtown Florence Main Street – Florence, South Carolina

Metuchen Downtown Alliance – Metuchen, New Jersey

Mills 50 Main Street – Orlando, Florida

Ruston Main Street – Ruston, Louisiana

Downtown Sheridan Association – Sheridan, Wyoming

Downtown Sykesville Connection – Sykesville, Maryland

“The Great American Main Street Award is the highest honor that we grant to organizations within our network,” said Hannah White, Interim President and CEO at Main Street America. “We are proud to recognize RDA and seven fellow organizations as 2023 GAMSA Semifinalists for their excellence in transforming their downtown districts through strategically implemented economic vitality, design, promotion, and organization initiatives.”

From small towns with traditional downtowns to commercial corridors within larger cities, the 2023 GAMSA represent the diversity of the Main Street America network and the power of the Main Street Approach™. Semifinalists have generated over $872 million in local reinvestment, helped open 863 net new businesses, facilitated the creation of 4,706 net new jobs, catalyzed the rehabilitation of 1,922 historic buildings, and leveraged 178,452 volunteer hours.

RDA Executive Director Diana Schwartz says, “We are very grateful for the team at the National Main Street center for recognizing the hard work that has been done in the River District for the past decade. We are thrilled to be selected once again as one of 8 semifinalists nationally.  This is a very prestigious honor that I hope will help our long-term residents recognize that Danville is nationally recognized as a model for revitalization. We look forward to the continued success of our downtown that will illuminate a bright path to move forward and share the improvements and opportunities to all areas of our city and our region.”

The 2023 Great American Main Street Award winners will be announced at the Opening Plenary of the 2023 Main Street Now Conference in Boston, Massachusetts on March 27, 2023.



The Great American Main Street Award program recognizes communities exemplifying the use of the Main Street Approach™ to revitalize commercial districts. Winners are selected from a nationwide pool of applicants by a jury of Main Street professionals and leaders in the fields of community and economic development and historic preservation. Since the award’s inception in 1995, over 100 Main Street programs have been honored as GAMSA communities. For more information, visit


Main Street America leads a movement committed to strengthening communities through preservation-based economic development in older and historic downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts. For more than 40 years, Main Street America has provided a practical, adaptable, and impactful framework for community-driven, comprehensive revitalization through the Main Street Approach™. Our network of more than 1,200 neighborhoods and communities, rural and urban, who share both a commitment to place and to building stronger communities through preservation-based economic development. Main Street America is a nonprofit subsidiary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. For more information, visit


The River District Association (RDA), formerly Downtown Danville Association, was formed in 1999 to coordinate efforts to revitalize the downtown Danville, Virginia community, now called the River District.  Since 2016, RDA and the City of Danville have enjoyed accredited status under the National and Virginia Main Street Programs; the program and accreditation are recognized nationally as one of the most successful formulas for downtown revitalization. 


River District Spotlight








The River District Association is so excited to share our new monthly series, River District Spotlight, produced by Lucia Video.  This series is a chance for us to celebrate new businesses, anchor businesses, and upcoming events.  You can watch it the first of each month on River City TV, or the RDA YouTube Channel.  

Tell us what you think! 



Dream Launch Awards - Bubble Aquatics and Exotics

The River District Association is excited to celebrate the 2022 Dream Launch Pitch Grant Awardees!  These businesses participated in a 6 week Dream Launch Bootcamp that covered topics from financial planning, business planning, access to capital, marketing and more.  Those that attended all 6 classes were able to pitch for funding if they chose to.  

Bubble Aquatics and Exotics, owned by Ashlyn Tickle, was awarded a $25,000 Dream Launch Grant. 

Bubble Aquatics and Exotics owner Ashlyn tickle was born and raised in Danville.  She has always been fascinated by reptiles and all kinds of animals.  When she was little she used to help her dad in the garden, and would befriend the resident garter snakes.  

Ashlyn moved to Florida in 2018 for college and fell in love with a store there that specializes in reptiles.  That is when she got her first pet Axolotl.  She loved her Axolotl but had to give her to a friend when she moved back to Virginia during Covid, because at the time Axolotls were not legal in Virginia.  As of last August (2021) they are now legal and they have been reunited. 

Since moving back to Danville, she has noticed there are very few resources in the region for people who love reptiles. She began to speak to other reptile owners who were having to travel long distances to get food and supplies for their pets.  Through these conversations, she realized there was a market and a need for reliable reptile supplies.  Thus, Bubble Aquatics and Exotics was born!

Bubble Aquatics and Exotics will provide the region with a reliable source of products for all manner of reptiles, sugar gliders, hedgehogs, bunnies and rabbits as well as traditional pets.  The store will also be a source of a wider variety of animal products such as pond stock (fish for stocking ponds), and live coral for saltwater fish tanks.  Bubble Aquatics and Exotics will also sell hunting and fishing licenses, and is working with the Department of Agriculture to be able to sell poultry and waterfowl in the spring and summer. These birds would come from a specialized breeder for healthier birds and hatching eggs. With the Department of Agriculture's permission (once obtained) Bubble Aquatics and Exotics  will also sell quail.  For those who like to knit, she also plans to stock ethically raised Angora rabbit fur, either already spun for knitting, or in its raw form for those who knit. 

Ashlyn has already been selling Axolotls that she breeds and is looking forward to having a store in the River District.  She is motivated by providing reptile (and all animal) lovers, the products they need to keep their animals healthy and happy.

What made you decide to take part in the Dream Launch Bootcamp/Pitch?

“When I began looking for buildings, I learned about the Dream Launch Bootcamp opportunity from a City employee”

How would you describe your experience in the Dream Launch Bootcamp?

“It was very informative and fun.  We learned all about the steps required to start and run a business.  I would recommend it to others to help build confidence.”

How will the Dream Launch Grant funds help your business? 

“With the grant I will be able to purchase inventory and make renovations to the building, as well as buy equipment, display case, furniture, and expand my marketing.”

Words of wisdom for new entrepreneurs?

"Do things one step at a time.  Have a mentor.  Participate in the Dream Launch classes, they allow you to network, find products, and meet people in the industry."

Dream Launch Awards - The Cosmetic Art Store

The River District Association is excited to celebrate the 2022 Dream Launch Pitch Grant Awardees!  These businesses participated in a 6 week Dream Launch Bootcamp that covered topics from financial planning, business planning, access to capital, marketing and more.  Those that attended all 6 classes were able to pitch for funding if they chose to.  

The Cosmetic Arts Store, owned by Sebastian Steele, was awarded $25,000 to help establish the business in a brick and mortar location in the River District. 

The Cosmetic Art Store is a business to business distributor to salons in the region.  The business opened in June of 2020 and sells all the products and supplies necessary to run a hair or nail salon.  The Cosmetic Art Store only carries brands that are family owned, and are only available in salons.  

Sebastian started the business as a way to support the industry that he loves and that gave him a successful career.  When he was 15 he became homeless, but was able to open his first salon when he was 16.  That step in his life was an amazing opportunity that led him to live and work all over the United States from Washington, DC, to L.A..  Eventually his journey brought him to Chapel Hill, NC to run the Aveda Institute there.  During this time he heard about Danville and all the growth and revitalization happening in the community.  He visited and fell in love, eventually moving here to work in real estate, and open the Cosmetic Art Store.  The salon industry gave him an opportunity to turn his life around, and he wants to be a part of doing the same by supporting the next generation of beauty entrepreneurs and salon owners.  

What made you decide to take part in the Dream Launch Bootcamp and Pitch Competition? 

“I wanted the Cosmetic Art Store to be in the River District.  I actually did the Dream Launch Bootcamp in 2019, but was only able to attend half the classes, and have wanted to finish the experience ever since.  I was able to participate this year, and am excited to be in the River District, renovating a building that needs work, and being a part of revitalizing the River District.”

How would you describe your experience in the Dream Launch Bootcamp?

“It was well run, very clear, and I got more out of it than I expected.  I have experience running large businesses so some of that material was a review, but some was also new and specific to the area.  Also, participating made me redo my business plan, and I realized I was in a better place than I expected.”

Any words of wisdom for new entrepreneurs?

“Make connections, participate actively in your network, seek out resources.  Through relationships made at Dream Launch I have met new accounts and found reliable contractors. I am excited to see what RDA continues to do!”