Elkton at Turning Point as Downtown Struggles, Newspaper Says

Elkton’s downtown is at a turning point in its history as “many downtown businesses are struggling,” the Cecil Whig editorialized today. “The recession, coupled with the loss of county offices, has diminished an already dwindling customer base.” The owner of the Main Street Bagel shop noted that after almost 200 county workers, along with the hundreds of visitors to their offices, moved to the Delaware State Line, his establishment saw a 30% decline in business. The editorial concluded that people “head to Route 40, Havre de Grace, Newark, and farther afield to eat, see movies or listen to music. While we occasionally do some of those things downtown parking is almost always an issue, the opinion piece concluded.

elkton-north-street-hotel-nicholson-1972-a1

When Jim Nicholson of the North Street hotel stood in front of his family's business in 1972 for this photo, you can bet that parking was at a premium.

Someone Noticed appreciates the coverage the Whig is giving to this important public policy matter, as they dig deeply into the subject with quality reporting. But on the assertion that the problem is parking, we’ll disagree. It would be a sign of returning vitality, one that could be resolved with appropriate planning. This idea that visitors downtown had trouble finding a space to squeeze their car into has been bantered about for decades and there was a time some 20 or 30 years ago that it was a issue. Imagine the time not all that long ago when the stores along Main and North streets constituted the retailing center for the county. In those days people headed into this area to shop and dine and there weren’t as many parking lots then.

About 15-years-ago as Elkton’s decline accelerated with the loss of anchors and the town was beginning to create the Alliance, planners said there wasn’t enough space for those autos coming into the county seat. To figure out how to handle this situation, the town commissioned a professional planning study. The first report, which came back, said there wasn’t a parking problem, so they sent it back to be restudied. When it was released the second time, it said agreed with what local officials were saying about vehicle space.

Whatever the reality was at that time, the parking problem in the town center has become less and less of a problem with each passing year. To start with so many historic buildings have been torn down in order to provide paved lots for cars that a stroll up North Street no longer gives one a unique sense of place. Couple all those new parking lots with the continuing erosion of vital anchors in the town center and what you find is that fewer and fewer people make jump into an auto to travel downtown. The county moved 190 workers out of town, not to mention the hundreds of people that visited those offices, in January 2008. There have been other recent losses too. With each loss, whether it was another small retailer or an important institution, the affect was noticeable for anyone walking those streets regularly.

The real challenge is that there are no anchors to make the town center a destination. Quality restaurants would be an example of a commercial operation that could cause people to make the town center a destination, as one of our regular readers has posted on this blog. A demonstration project by the Arts Council and the Historical Society illustrated one very successful venture that drew the right demographic to the heart of the community. We always thought the Alliance would pick up on that demonstration project. Hopefully there are realistic plans to address some of the growing challenges and opportunities for it is important to realistic address the challenges. If the interventions are successful, perhaps parking will someday become a problem.

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6 responses to “Elkton at Turning Point as Downtown Struggles, Newspaper Says

  1. There is absolutely NOT a parking problem in downtown Elkton and the Cecil Whig reporter and editor might want to get their info first hand instead of relying on others.

  2. Debbie:

    I agree. I wish they had a parking problem like they once did because it wouild show that more people are coming into town. Each time we’ve lost a business or institution down town, those parking spots have become emptier. You saw it when the Elkton Pharmacy and Stanelys Newsstand closed. You saw it when Newsberrys closed. Then when the conty office workers moved out, it was very noticable, though Comm. Jablonski was quoted as saything that she had noticed a difference.

  3. someone else noticed

    I drove down Main Street today with a critical eye to see what I would come in to town for. Here’s all I saw. Two people walking on the street- one was homeless.There was also one other person out and it too was a homeless person on a bench. The other person out? The meter maid writing parking tickets. Speaking of parking, here’s another issue. It may not seem like much, but maybe have all the police cars park in one lot behind the courthouses instead of along Main Street or other ajoining side streets. It just puts you on edge driving through there which makes you want to avoid Main Street altogether. Also, meters just by the courthouse is just downright tacky and doesn’t portrait a good image. Now to downtown itself: There was Lyons Pharmacy, Colonial Jewelers, Picture it Framed, the Bagel Place and the pizza place and marginally the Howard House. There’s nothing else a family would want to visit. Now if you get in trouble with the law, there are plenty of lawyers and places to get bail bonds, but that’s about it. Maybe the start of revitalization should start on the western side of Main Street near the post office and work its way up to the heart of town?

  4. Sam in Port Deposit

    Man Elkton makes Port Deposit look good. I had to go to Elkton the other day to go to court. Thats the first time I’ve been down there years. Isn’t no reason to go there any more. I was shocked about how bad they have let things get. Hey Port is looking up. We have a bunch of restaurants now and a new opened just a little while ago.

  5. Crazy Old History Teacher

    I like that picture of Mr. Nicholson from 1972! Here’s a link to a picture of ME from 1972….

    http://farm1.static.flickr.com/26/95081511_7d407b9aab.jpg

  6. Sam: Things are looking just fine in Port Deposit. We find ourselves down there often over the weekends and the warm sunny Saturday we caused people to make that a destination spot for its resturants. I think most Main Streets would like to have four or five fine returants (one more is on the way) and the nice ambiance of that street.

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