Our downtown is once again exciting and fun to visit

Published 2:09 pm Tuesday, August 16, 2022

When I was growing up, people went downtown to do their Christmas (or whatever) shopping. That’s where the department stores were, the specialty clothing stores, the sporting goods and music stores, the toy stores, the shoe stores, the jewelers, the gift shops. Downtown was also where you’d find the most restaurants, theaters, and hangouts, where a high school group might gather and eat burgers and fries after school before going the rest of the way home. Downtown was where most offices were, too, along with civic buildings and the library.
And, for sometime after that it was where you went for excitement. But, suburban malls and shopping centers began sprouting up with branches of the downtown stores. The tragic flight of people and investment out of the downtown hadn’t yet sapped all the life out of the downtown shopping district. That came later.
Indeed, readers of a certain age may recall the hit song, “Downtown,” by Englishwoman Petula Clark.
When you’re alone and life is making you lonely
You can always go downtown
When you’ve got worries, all the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know, downtown
Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city
Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty
How can you lose?
The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares
So go downtown
Things will be great when you’re downtown
No finer place for sure, downtown
Everything’s waiting for you
Don’t hang around and let your problems surround you
There are movie shows downtown
Maybe you know some little places to go to
Where they never close downtown
We all know what happened next, unfortunately. Nearly every American city, along with most small towns, hollowed out in the decades to follow. Downtowns lost their shopping appeal along with their department stores and high-end retail, theaters, and a lot more. Then, came the era of second-hand or junk stores that provided life to downtown.
Some downtowns emptied out and have yet to rebound. But, Elizabethton has enjoyed a wonderful revival, and this summer has proven it. Most of the wonderful old art deco buildings are still there, but repurposed with new fun shops. The restaurant and even bar scene if that is what you like, is great. Not too many people go downtown to buy housewares or sports equipment. Most of the retail is now geared to the town’s bustling tourist trade than to non-arty locals. It’s not what we call traditional, but it might represent some of the best of what’s possible today, instead of what once was.
And, maybe that’s just fine. Times do change, and we’re proud of what Elizabethton has become. In the summertime, it’s the place to be with the downtown car show on Saturday evenings, music in the Covered Bridge Park, First Friday events in the summer, and even food trucks at certain events. The Bonnie Kate is back in business with weekend plays, music, etc. And, we have a farmers market each Tuesday evening in the Covered Bridge Park. There is a lot going on.
Elizabethton has come alive. Would Petula Clark feel at home here? Hard to say.
But, like Elizabethton, many downtowns are re-emerging once again. And, with the fall season approaching, it can be as exciting as summer has been in downtown Elizabethton. We are thankful to all the businesses and town leaders, who have given us an exciting downtown again.

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