“Downtown, things’ll be great when you’re
Downtown, no finer place for sure
Downtown, everything’s waiting for you
Some of you may remember Petula Clark belting out “Downtown” in 1964, taking the song to number one on the U.S. charts, and if you’re one of the few old enough to remember this one, I promise not to sell you out. I know it and I wasn’t even born yet.
So why would I begin with these lyrics for this song in this column? That’s an easy one.
As 2013 slammed the door closed and the promise and hope of a new year began to warm us all over, I spoke with many local officials and business owners looking for angles on stories, hopefully something solid and optimistic as a forecast for the coming year.
But I kept coming across a trend in their comments that seems to be a problem nationwide and that’s a need to revitalize the downtown districts of Small Town, USA. The solutions offered all seemed to revolve around getting someone, anyone really, to invest their money and provide some sort of anchor to draw us all back.
It just so happens I disagree. The issue to revitalization locally isn’t having a draw. It’s having residents who will make an effort.
It’s like the old saying, “Everyone likes to complain about the weather, but no one does anything about it.”
Let’s look at it this way, for those of you who do disagree.
Take a moment to float back across the years, we’ll say 20 or so, to a time when the voices were clamoring, “Buy American” from the mountaintop. Wal-Mart was all but burned in effigy for carrying foreign-made products and there was an uproar the likes of which are rarely seen in this country.
Did the slogans and banter change things? No, we still operate under a trade deficit internationally, some $34.3 billion in 2013 according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the majority of which is with China.
Here’s another example: The price of gasoline in the United States is the most inexpensive in the industrialized world, yet every time the price at the pump jumps to a new high there’s a movement to boycott buying gasoline for just one day, all of us together, and send Big Oil a message.
In the end, we do send the petroleum companies a message and it’s the same message we send anyone willing to consider opening a business in the local downtown districts.
The message is Americans don’t like to be put out. We will typically drive past stores owned and operated locally to save a few cents at a Big Box location, whether it happens to be two miles or to another county altogether. I have been as guilty of this as everyone else.
The credit card bills from the holidays should be rolling in about now. Take one, open it, and compare how much of your hard-earned money went to non-locally owned businesses or online purchases compared to ones owned by friends or neighbors.
For most the difference between the two numbers will be staggering in their disparity.
It’s as simple as this: we as a nation just don’t like to be imposed upon when it comes to our comfort or money. Do I fault anyone for trying to save money? Not in the least. Chances are they worked hard for it and have every right to do so. But, somewhere along the line there has to be some forethought as to what the long-term effects are for the community.
Why are towns across the country pushing to revamp their downtown digs? Because the sad fact is if something doesn’t happen to change the migration away from town centers it’s going to lead to a 21st century issue known as Urban Sprawl, where larger cities, such as Greenville, spread their reach until there’s no way to tell where the city ends and our lives begin.
Even more important are the economics of it, but that would take me pages upon pages to lay out here and there’s just not enough room, time, or most likely patience on the part of my boss for it.
What’s the answer to the problem? This one isn’t so simple, but one thing I do know is it begins with each of us being willing to invest, not a business owner willing to take a chance. We, as local consumers, have to make a conscious decision to patronize local businesses, get involved in local politics and, most important of all, be willing to accept short-term discomfort for long-term gain, not something we like to do very much.
So, let’s all go downtown, while we still have one.
D. C. Moody is a staff writer for The Easley Progress, The Pickens Sentinel and Powdersville Post and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.