The overall economic health of the town center is better than most “other commercial centers and plazas” Commissioner and Elkton Alliance Director Mary Jo Jablonski informed the Cecil Whig. Downtown, defined as Main and North streets by the town official, has 99-businesses with an 8-percent vacancy rate. Of these, “there are four schools or studios, six restaurants, nine retail stores, 19 service providers . . . and 61 professional offices,” she reported.
Always known to be one of those curious, inquisitive types, that cluster of statistics caught our attention when they first surfaced at a town meeting after Commissioner Givens asked questions about the information. Since it doesn’t triangulate very well with the perceptual data and the comments you hear at town meetings, we decided to do a little independent tabulating to reconcile the figures, after seeing them again in the Whig. A stormy morning in the county seat delayed our ambling since ominous cloud rolled over the business district as lightning flashed from the sky.
By late afternoon the sun started shining on Main Street so we started out to find those six restaurants since we’re always searching for great places to eat. (We recently lost one of our Elkton favorites, Judy’s Java, because of declining business.) We came up with four on the two streets. There’s Lyons Drug Store, the Howard Hotel, Brother’s Pizza, and the Bagel Shop. Where are the other two eateries? We’ll visit them occasionally for lunch, once we identify the locations and we’ll also post the locations on the web-log so customers can visit these downtown eateries. Having a high quality destination restaurant, as others have pointed out repeatedly on Someone Noticed, is one of the foundations strategies for bringing vitality back to the center of old towns. As for those nine retailers, we’ll hold that count over to next week. Perhaps we can get a copy of the Christmas Shopopoly promotion to help us with our task.
Anyone casually visiting the business district knows that it has been undergoing severe challenges over several decades and the past couple of years haven’t been kind at all. Once the courthouse moved to the Delaware Line, the town lost one of its best anchors, creating an immediate void on the street and in the shops. It does have a healthy and growing cluster of bail bondsmen, along with the doctors and lawyers that have always had a presence. We doubt that is what the National Main Streets program is hoping for in their model for rebuilding Main Streets.
Revitalization of Main Streets, as outlined by the National Historic Trust, is important for the well-being of our aging towns. The preliminary step is to identify the appropriate strategies for a locality (each is unique) and implement those plans with great care, while using valid data as milestones to keep you on the designated path. According to the Whig, there isn’t agreement on the “best way to bring more people and their dollars downtown. And they’re not sure what they want the town’s future to hold.” Having a unified vision that is largely embraced by the business people, the institutional stakeholders, and the citizenry is a core element that’s critical for success. Too that, we’d add constantly reach out to increase constituencies and collaboration. We realize these are all challenging things, but they are critical, preliminary components for success.