There is nothing I find more charming than Main Streets. I love driving into a small town and discovering their Main Street, with its local boutiques, cafes, bakeries, restaurants, bookstores… Main Street give a town its colour, its soul. In the era of the giant chain store, Main Streets still give small businesses the opportunity to thrive.
I live in a suburb of a major urban centre. It’s Cookie Cutter Central here, and our “downtown” is pathetic. There are too many tattoo parlours and sex shops and not enough retail businesses that can bring a community together and draw families out. The space is not beautiful and enticing, and there is too much traffic. As a result, residents are drawn to the suburban retail power centres dominated by multi-national chain stores. Boring!
When I lived in the city, I was in a neighbourhood that had somewhat of a Main Street in its own right. It was a ten-minute walk away. Every Saturday morning – even in our Canadian winters – I treasured the stroll out to run my domestic errands: a coffee and perhaps a breakfast sandwich at the diner; a newspaper at the drugstore; fresh fruits and vegetables at the independent fruit market; maybe some freshly baked cookies at the local bakery; a peek into the pretty stationery store (even in this day and age, I love paper!)… While there were some chains present on the “strip”, they managed to blend in nicely with the neighbourhood landscape. It all felt precious.
I long for the days when I can walk to pick up a newspaper and a coffee. Oh, I could still do it, but it would be a less-than-scenic twenty-minute trek to – yes – another suburban plaza with nothing but chain stores. I am a victim to suburban sprawl! So while I do enjoy the slight sense of “getting away from the big city” when I drive the car into our driveway, I miss the sense of community and neighbourliness that a Main Street provides.
I suppose this is why I often think about moving to a small town. It is certainly one of the things I adore about our annual visits to Prince Edward County. The house we stay in is literally steps away from the tiny town’s Main Street. I love being able to shop for dinner on the same day because the local grocery store is just around the corner. If we woke up and realized we were out of milk, it wasn’t a chore to have to run out and pick some up.
I like to think of Main Streets as Pleasantville. Lots of greenery, vibrant colours, and shiny, happy people (sigh – I miss REM already). I don’t think it’s a pipe dream. When communities and their residents put their minds to it, they can create an idyllic Main Street that people want to flock to.
Do you have a Main Street in your town? What do you love about it?