My Main Thing With Main Street ~ Annapolis Capital Punishment

Friday, October 10, 2008

My Main Thing With Main Street

Most of us have heard by now that our Main Street has been honored as one of America's best streets by the American Planning Association (APA). Certainly it is a very nice street and we should be pleased to be so recognized. But as an observer of the urban scene I can't help but wonder if our street really is "great". It's got a great view across the Bay, is lined with and near plenty of important and pleasing if not "great" historic buildings. It is nice to stroll up and down, has a lovely church at its top and ever since we buried the utility lines and laid new brick and otherwise improved the streetscape, it's become even more attractive. I give credit to our local government for helping make many of these improvements.

Over the many years, I've enjoyed most of the restaurants when times are good, and it's nice to walk along the sidewalks of or ride my bike on Main Street. Once in a while I may be found in one of the coffee shops or bars and I often enjoy the Maryland Federation of Art's gallery openings on the circle from which one can overlook Main Street.

But there is a downside. For starters, as a local, I just don't see much reason to go there. It's for tourists and for those with money to spend. I question how much they serve locals. I did stop in for a watch battery at Ron George Jewelers recently (and to chat with the delegate for whom I also peddled gold and diamonds for a holiday season) and have been to Hard Bean (not actually on Main) a few times of late, but what really do the shops of Main Street have to offer locals?

Perhaps that was not part of the APA's criteria in choosing the best streets but I think it remains one of the fundamental concerns about our downtown. Certainly we have Steven's Hardware and a CVS store but it just seems that Main Street is more and more like, like, well like a tourist street--like Ocean City's BoardWalk. The city's own initiative to turn the once locally-oriented Market House into a food court--now empty of course, surely did not help to reverse that trend.

While there may be a lot of different flavors in the many ice cream shops downtown, there is just not much local flavor to many of the stores. I try to patronize the locally-owned shops but I guess what I am getting at is that if a street is really in the main, for tourists, how great a Main Street can it be? Perhaps it's more of a McMain Street. It seems that instead of "capitalizing" on what is unique, special and different about downtown--which of course is Main Street for the most part, we have somehow become more like other typical--and touristy shopping destinations. The big issue is what it will be like once the shops at Parole have been in place for a while. Will Main Street be able to maintain a sense of place, an identity and a mix of shops that will be different and compelling enough to maintain commercial interest?

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