Forum Connect

Downtown Love Affair

  • 1.  Downtown Love Affair

    Posted 02-10-2019 19:56
    So I'm considerably older than most of the Forum Connect participants, and as old people are wont to do (the use of that phrase shows my age), my mind gravitates to the days of my youth, and one of my most vivid memories is Saturdays spent going to town, which meant dressing up and spending all day in the small downtown of our county seat in the days when downtowns were centers of shopping, services, legal matters, and entertainment.

    This was the late 50s and this little downtown, which consisted of a five-block-long Main Street with two stop lights, was the location of doctors', dentists', and lawyers' offices, as well as two funeral homes, the courthouse, library, drugstore, clothing stores, hardware stores, five and dime, restaurants, barbershops, furniture stores, theater, bowling alley, the county's only hotel, and unbelievably, an A&P grocery store smack in the middle. I say unbelievably, because looking at that area now, I cannot comprehend that there were two lanes of traffic on that narrow street in that small mountain town, in addition to parallel parking on both sides, and cars stopping continuously to park, load groceries and furniture, and to pick up passengers. The sidewalks were crowded, and people crossed to the other side by dodging in and out of the slow-moving traffic.  And the cars navigating this congested space were not small, they were American-sized Chevys, Fords, and Dodges.  I do remember that when a car stopped to park, or load groceries, traffic came to a standstill from one end of main street to the other.

    Looking back objectively, I know this was a sleepy little rural place, with two policemen who patrolled on foot from one end of town to the other and whose only official duty seemed to be to twist every parking meter handle so that if coins had been left in the slots, more time would be added, but to an eight-year-old, it was a bright, loud blur of color, sounds , smells and movement. There were other, larger, downtowns in eastern Kentucky and we would visit them when my mother, who had medical problems, had to go to specialists, who were located, not in medical centers, but in the downtowns of larger communities.

    By the time I went to college at the University of Kentucky in the early seventies, downtown Lexington was only a ghost of it's former self, but there was still enough of it left that I went Christmas shopping there one night during my first year. There were only a few department stores left by that time and even fewer shoppers, but the memory of walking on the sidewalks from one brightly lit store to another with snow falling around me will be with me as long as I have memories.

    The love of downtowns has been imprinted on me by these early experiences, and I love visiting them, and writing about them so I can relive them. So thanks for being my readers, even if involuntary. Does anyone else have downtown memories to share?

    Jim Sparks
    Sparks Architecture
    Glasgow KY

  • 2.  RE: Downtown Love Affair

    Posted 02-11-2019 18:03
    Jim, you're not alone.

    Kurtis Hord: Architectural design / Lime putty masonry / Pattern making / European guild-influenced roofing / (412) 228-0241
    all honor to god / the meek and humble shall inherit the earth

  • 3.  RE: Downtown Love Affair

    Posted 02-12-2019 09:53
    I grew up in a town with no downtown. Until the 1970s, it was a farming community; by the time I was born in 1991, it was suburbia. Decisions were made by the township, mainly in the 1970s and 1980s, that made it inevitable--given how metro Detroit sprawl was developing--for this to be the outcome.

    And because we had no downtown, by the time I was in high school and some of my friends had cars and licenses, we typically went to neighboring communities that DID have traditional downtowns to hang out. Once there, we would walk to the ice cream shop, point out houses and gardens we liked or did not like in the neighborhoods immediately around the downtown, go to the library. Once, we ate a birthday cake in a park and ended up sharing it with the members of a Hare Krishna group who were also using the park. It was memorable, and unlikely to be the kind of memory possible in our own town that had no downtown.

    One of my favorite things about the town in which I've since bought a house is that it does have a traditional downtown, that there is a small liquor store on my corner, that while I'm not in the immediate surroundings of downtown I can walk there on a nice day or ride a bicycle.

    Ashley Fallon
    Wyandotte, MI and Hamtramck, MI

  • 4.  RE: Downtown Love Affair

    Posted 02-12-2019 11:09
    I haven't been to the town I grew up in in forever ... but I def have those fond memories of biking to the main street and getting ice cream from Denville Dairy!
    I feel like when I was in high school and college the big box stores got people away from the downtown and it wasn't a place I went to a lot, but when I went back about 7 years ago to help my parents move out I found it so refreshing that the main street was humming with life. They had a bunch of weekend activities planned, and some of the same shops still existed. It def had a feeling of community ... and it made me nostalgic.
    I really applaud all the work main street communities across the country are doing to make their downtowns so vibrant and a place for people to go, to get to know their neighbors, local businesses, and to get that sense of pride in where they live!

    Colleen Danz
    Forum Marketing Manager
    National Trust for Historic Preservation
    Washington DC