This post by Mike Staton.
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Remember these lyrics?
When you’re alone, and life is making you lonely
You can always go
When you got worries, all the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know.
Need a hint?
The British singer recorded Downtown way back in 1964, the year I turned 13.
The song composed by Tony Hatch has always summoned wonderful memories whenever I hear it. The tune’s words take me back to Akron, Ohio; San Bernardino, California; Wadsworth and Marietta, Ohio; and cities and towns in Florida and North Carolina. I go back to downtowns in their heyday, Christmas lights twinkling in the night, and to modern times and empty, dilapidated buildings, sad beauties missing their finery.
My earliest memory of a downtown? Akron. I couldn’t have been any more than four. I’m standing in front of a department store’s Christmastime window display, ogling the animated figures. Not too long ago my cousin Candy reminded me of how our moms would take us shopping in downtown Akron and we’d eat in the Tea Room on an upper floor of O’Neil’s. Candy remembered I loved custard. More than 60 years later – and she somehow remembered. I’ve included three photos of Akron’s O’Neil’s department store – traffic in front of the store at Christmastime, the store’s first floor and a storefront window with holiday finery.
When five, I found myself in the backseat of our 1950s Ford stationwagon traveling Route 66 to San Bernardino, California, our new home. Dad worked for B.F. Goodrich, helping to build ICBMs for the Defense Department. Mom worked part-time for the downtown J.C. Penny’s store. Again, it’s Christmastime I most remember about that Penney’s department store. The upper floor had the most wondrous toy spectacles anchored by train elaborate train displays. I’ve included a photo of the outside of San Bernardino’s Penny’s store.
By the time we moved back to Northeast Ohio in 1965, downtowns were beginning their painful decline, losing competition to suburban malls. Chains closed their downtown department stores and moved into the spiffy new malls. I was 14… easily impressible. Not until years later would I realize that city fathers all across the country had done nothing to save what had once been vibrant downtowns.
By the 1980s towns like Leesburg, Florida, were trying gimmicks to try to induce folks to return to the downtown to do shopping. I worked as a newspaper reporter in Leesburg and could see that it take more than one-way traffic and pedestrian walkways flanked by flower beds to bring shoppers back to the downtown. Retail businesses have to choose to move back to the downtown. When I left Leesburg for Wilmington, North Carolina in the late 1980s, town fathers had torn up the concrete planters that jetted into the street and returned the downtown to two-way traffic.
For the next thirty years town leaders would continue to try to find the panacea that would restore their downtowns to their former glory. It proved elusive. Towns like Wallace, North Carolina, and Lancaster, Ohio, remain plagued by vacant buildings just an indigent-discarded burning cigarette from a fire. They continue searching for the successful government/entrepreneur financial planning needed to bring boutiques, gift shops, art galleries, bakeries, ice cream shops, playhouses, and bookshops. Modern malls often resemble the downtowns of old, so I know there’s a yearning to step back into the golden age of downtown shopping.
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I’m an author with four published novels that include a sword-and-sorcery fantasy trilogy – The Emperor’s Mistress, Thief’s Coin and Assassins’ Lair. The fourth novel is a historical romance set during the Civil War. It’s called Blessed Shadows Dark and Deep. I’ve begun writing my second Civil War novel – Deepening Homefront Shadows. All my novels can be purchased via the website of my publisher, Wings ePress, as well as the websites of Amazon and Barnes and Noble.