It takes a village to raise a downtown

Published 1:21 pm Monday, January 23, 2023


Main Stree Middlesboro

What’s Up, Middlesboro? Did you make any resolutions for 2023? Maybe some of you resolve to get healthy, save extra money, payoff a bill and so on. Did any of you make the resolution to Save Main Street? If I had to guess that was probably not on anyone’s list, but it really should be on all of ours.

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Every town in the world has a downtown/main street area. In Europe, they usually refer to this area as old town. The location where things really started in the town — retail, spiritual, government and anything else you needed to live in the town, all took place downtown.

While traveling to Europe I have found that the locals celebrate and cherish these old towns. It has been interesting to see how different areas care for their old towns. In Prague in the mornings you will see shop owners cleaning their storefronts, not just the front door, but the sidewalk in front of their store, store windows — any place you see when you look at that shop. In Venice, where space is limited for storefronts, they tend to focus on eye catching window displays. Shop windows were not just a spot to plop items to sell, they were window displays that created an experience. They drew you up to the window where your eyes lit up with wonder and before you realized it you were in the store browsing the many interesting items the store sold. Over and over in various places we have traveled we have been amazed how these downtown areas were a place to eat, shop, and simply enjoy.

Now unfortunately, not every town has this experience. You can drive through towns and see the transition from historical downtowns, to malls, to small or large outlet shopping centers, and to national big-box stores. It is almost like rings within each other, with each new ring the old is left mostly empty and almost always very unkempt. Why do you think this is? Why do we find it so easy to forget our town’s past?

Why don’t we celebrate the beginnings of our town? I could keep on asking the “why” questions, but asking questions will not change our problem. I have mentioned before that a town cannot go back to the way it was in the beginning.

No more Woolworth’s lunch counters, no 5-and-dimes, no more shops that focused on the customer instead of the sale. But is that totally true? We might not be able to recreate the actual shops, but we can recreate the feeling, the memorable experience of hanging out downtown. Can just one person do that? Nope. Even one or two unique shops or attractions can bring back that feeling/experience. It takes all of us. The building owners need to take pride in how their building looks and how it is maintained. If windows are broken and/or paint is chipping, fix them. There is no one else that can do that but the building owner. What about presentation of the storefronts? This is where the shop owners join the efforts. They need to be creating window displays that draw people up to them. They need to make their storefront inviting, so inviting that a person passing by just has to come inside to see what else you have to offer them. What about the sidewalks? Some of that responsibility of sidewalk upkeep and design is the city, downtown manager, Main Street (in our case), even tourism, the chamber of commerce and local service clubs share in the responsibility. Then, of course, the building and business owners also have responsibility. So basically we all are sharing in the responsibility to keep our sidewalks clean and inviting. If you are walking down the sidewalk and see some trash, don’t just walk by it- pick it up. If you see an overflowing trash can or something hazardous in the sidewalk reach out to Main Street or the city and let them know. Just ignoring an issue will only lead to bigger problems. The biggest problem is an area that no one wants to visit or live in.

The saying it takes a village to raise a child, well it takes a whole town to have a flourishing downtown. Once we have the flourishing downtown, more things will come. People will want to bring their businesses to the town. People will want to live in the town. People will want to come visit your town.

How many of you are now ready to say that in 2023 I want to save Main Street? Remember you are helping to save Main Street even if all you can do is pick up trash.

I am looking forward to seeing you downtown.