What Happened To Our Thriving Downtown Businesses?

By April Smyth | | Follow US on Facebook

Whatever happened to the bustling downtown business districts of Small Town, USA? As a young girl, I recall hearing the song “Silver Bells” at Christmastime and picturing the busy streets of my hometown.

Back then, we used to have many shops at our disposal for clothes, shoes, accessories, jewelry, appliances, furniture, televisions, and even an old five-and-ten store. You name it, we probably had a storefront to purchase it. We had an awesome bakery that produced fresh bread and rolls that I swear could be smelled for miles. Our local candy store featured a delightful soda fountain.

The business district included local mom-and-pop grocery stores and an A&P that were all within walking distance for anyone who lived in town. Restaurants, luncheonettes, ice cream shops, taverns, churches, barber shops, and hair salons encompassed the town.

Our appliance store serviced what they sold. I remember the repairmen who would come to the house and fix our TV, refrigerator, and stove. Those expensive items lasted a long time, and nothing went to waste. Our town had a cobbler who repaired shoes, too.

Our local economy, it seemed, was well-supported and booming. But then, something changed. Malls and strip malls became prevalent, followed by “big-box stores.” People began to shop outside the community. Maybe it was out of convenience. Perhaps it was the excitement of something new. During the 1970s and 1980s, many American’s went from one car families to two car families, and the need for shopping within walking distance from home was no longer of great concern.

One by one, local businesses were forced to close their doors. Some retired, while others went to find work elsewhere. Empty storefronts became the norm. Our once quaint, thriving little marketplace became a ghost town over a period of two decades. A few businesses survived, but the vast majority did not.

The Revitalization Of Downtown

Residents began to complain about the appearance of the downtown district. I once heard someone say:

“You could shoot a cannon from one end of town to the other and not hit anybody.”

While some towns were not as affected as hard as ours, others found themselves in the same situation. Revitalization became a theme in small-town America. Residents realized (as did government officials) that the heart of America, in a sense, had stopped beating. Building these downtown areas up, as opposed to tearing them down, would prove to be beneficial to local municipalities, counties, and states as a whole because doing so would improve the economy.

As you can imagine, deserted towns do not draw new people into the community. These revitalization and clean-up efforts were designed, in part, to inspire growth and resurrect the appeal that once drew people in.

Finally, people began to take action. The revitalization era was born! All across the county, caring individuals launched a campaign to reclaim their downtown. Grants were awarded to business owners and residents alike to spruce up their properties and add curb appeal.

Some buildings have become so dilapidated over time that they need to be torn down. The structures are simply unsafe and beyond repair. Although it is sad to lose some historic structures, we can only move forward and attempt to keep the remaining ones intact.

As the now eyesores are slated for demolition, noticeably more small businesses are making a go of it! The key to their success is community support. Although these merchants face the challenge of consumers shopping online, they can still prosper.

Personally, I enjoy shopping locally as much as possible for unique gifts and other everyday items. Most of the time, the personal service you receive makes the experience memorable, unlike online shopping. Another bonus - you deal directly with the owner, who is often a member of the community. You will likely form a personal relationship with the proprietor; something that is uncommon at major retailers.

Small Business Saturday

This year, Small Business Saturday fell on November 24. Hopefully, you were able to head downtown and see for yourself what these businesses offer. When we support small business, we not only help parents provide for their children, we strengthen a community and provide a valuable infrastructure for years to come.

I hope you discovered something extraordinary in your community this Small Business Saturday! Don’t forget to patronize a local eatery while you’re out Christmas shopping in your town this season. Happy Shopping!!