It’s summer and for many of us that means a vacation. I’m willing to bet that whether you’re headed to the beach or the mountains, chances are you’re going to visit a downtown along the way.
What is it that we love so much about vacation? Whether it’s the familiar, laid-back streets of Martha’s Vineyard or the bustling boardwalks of the Jersey shore, once we’re there, we put away the car and get our feet on the street (when they’re not in the sand or the water).
Our own Communications & Office Manager, Christine Schilke, took time out from walking the woods of northern New Hampshire to stroll the Main Street of Littleton recently. She was impressed that although the town really is little (pop. 5,928), it knows enough to celebrate its unique characteristics, lining the streets with festive flags and promoting the Main Street way of life. The tiny Littleton diner – made famous by Presidential candidates looking to connect with the average Joe – makes a point advocating for that new, old-fashioned way. Their menu lists a Recipe for an American Renaissance:
Put a Porch on Your House
Shop on Main Street
Live in a Walkable Community
Sound familiar? The other merchants lining the main boulevard also espouse the Main Street way of life, encouraging people to shop local on the brown paper bags they give customers for their purchases. They also embody another characteristic so important to successful downtowns – authenticity. They celebrate what’s unique about them. Just take a look at the crowd in Chutters candy store, home to the “world’s longest candy counter,”and you’ll see that mom’s advice to just be yourself works for downtowns too.
Who among us can remain dispassionate in these charming, captivating towns? That we choose to spend our vacation time here is not a coincidence – it’s a reminder that we should take a look at those elements we like best – the walkability, the bikeability, the authenticity and celebration of a historic past – and them bring home to be incorporated into our own downtowns. Because if we can’t see ourselves choosing to vacation in our own downtown, why would anyone else? If our Main Street districts are boring, scary or depressing to those of us that live there, then we are definitely doing something wrong.
The good news is, we can change by working together and with our member communities. Tell your municipal leaders, local stakeholders and your state representatives you want to see more done to make your downtown into a destination that attracts visitors, employers, businesses and residents who wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Let’s create the kind of places where others visit us, and think we’re the lucky ones who get to live here.