In defense of Main St

Yesterday I had a half an hour to kill while waiting for an appointment to hear the bad news about my taxes (running a small business and selling a home can give your tax situation a major hit!) so I decided to poke around the 'downtown' area of the larger town directly south of where I live.

Its home to the first public library. There is also a college right in town. But it's clear to me that Main St (metaphorical...I can't recall if the downtown is actually on Main St....I just know it's part of route 140) has seen better days. The street is peppered with for rent signs...some mom and pop shops have shuttered, yet have not been replaced by CVS and Panera. That's down the road a stretch in a big, highway-side strip mall. The parking meters still take nickels (something I'm not complaining about, but a sure sign of the areas activity).

Thinking about spring and a need for some nice springy shoes, I decided to pop into a shoe store that boasted a Red Wing Shoes logo in the window...usually a good sign.

Immediately I was struck by the's the kind of store you often expect but rarely find in earnest. Family photos hung up behind the register, well worn carpet and wood paneling.

The store encompassed the last 5 decades of footwear fashion...literally. On a shelf near the entrance was a collection of beautiful Danish clogs. This struck me as a literal iteration of the 'things always come back into style' litany. How many Sweedish Hasbeens have I seen adorning the feet of fashionable ladies across the globe? their mother:

Wooden sole, beautiful leather high heel clogs. Untouched, 1970's Krone of Denmark.

The gentleman who helped me was the owner of the shop and had been for 75 or so years. We talked about how the outlet mall had taken a lot of his business and was perhaps the reason Main Street's appeal had waned. Weekends used to be packed with people out shopping and visiting. It was a social event. Now all you see is a man waving a tax preparation sign in a costume and a lone college student carrying take out.

We had conflicting feelings regarding tattoos. We talked about how few people take the time to dress nicely anymore or appreciate quality. I assured him that there was a new wave of young people who cared about these things, but he seemed skeptical. He lamented that in earlier years, all the kids would give him a big hug when they came to buy their Easter shoes, but nowadays it would be inappropriate. I didn't get a chance to ask him about all the amazing oil paintings propped up against the wall in the corner (I assume they are his) or if his kids have any interest in taking over his shop or if he's ever considered selling his deadstock shoes on Etsy.

But I bought a pair of lovely shoes and plan to go back with J for some 70's dress shoes or cowboy boots or to get well worn shoes repaired.

I think the internet is wonderful and I think it expands out ability to be social in a way we never could before. It gives us access to things previously unattainable. It allows us to buy a pair of beautiful Scandinavian clogs.

But then again, if you have a look, you may be able to discover things just as lovely right down the street and cultivate a community right where you are. We talk a lot about 'shopping local', but I find it often gets relegated to hip and gentrified areas. It's these little, forgotten downtown areas that need it the most. And you never know what you'll find, who you'll meet, or what will inspire you!

Does this sound like the area where you live? Have you lost beloved family run businesses or have you watched your sleepy downtown transform into a bustling social/commercial center? Have you ever discovered a hidden gem?

Taylor McVay1 Comment