"DOWNTOWN IS DYING" And Other Lies We Hear
“Main Street is dangerous”
“Downtown is dying, it’s just a matter of time”
“Nobody shops around here anymore”
“Main Street won’t ever be what it used to be”
Habits are hard to break. I know from personal experience that habits involving language and the tones that we use are probably some of the hardest habits to kick. Why? Simply because we learn them at such a young age. We have been speaking longer than we have been using toilets, guys. But our words, they have such power. I believe that language and the energy behind it are some of the strongest forces in our everyday lives: shaping ideas, spreading gossip, sharing feelings.
So when we first bought our building at 38 N Main St in Winchester, I knew we would be getting some raised eyebrows and cautious language from folks in our lives. I remember vividly the look on the lawyer and agent’s faces when I answered their inquiries into my plans for the building simply with “A pottery studio”. Sympathy. Alarm. Doubt. These looks were seconded by a contractor or two, an HVAC worker, and an insurance surveyor.
But why? From my calculations, I assume that it is because nobody has ever ‘made it’ with a pottery studio in downtown Winchester. But from those same calculations I cannot help but notice that nobody had ever tried before. There was a potter who used a small space purely for a studio without a retail area, but other than that – nada.
There are several empty storefront on Main Street, that is true. The assumption is that if there is space available, then an area must not be doing well. But let’s check out a few places that are doing very well and have empty spots like the Fayette Mall, or Hamburg Pavilion. I haven’t heard the phrase “Hamburg is dying” just because IChing closed after 13 years of business. Or when Claire’s moved out. Or HHGregg. There are many complex reasons for vacancies anywhere, but especially in downtown areas. A few would be square footage, rental pricing, employee parking, landlords, building conditions, building codes, zoning, plumbing, etc.
And I must add in this tidbit as well: just because a business closes DOES NOT MEAN THAT IT DID NOT GET THE BUSINESS THAT IT NEEDED TO SURVIVE. In fact, many small businesses that close do so because lack of interest from the owners (which often leads to poor marketing and customer interaction), accounting issues, time management conflicts, or from poor general management. It takes a lot to successfully run a business; creating income is just a part of the equation.
Back on topic, let’s observe some facts from our own Main Street here in Winchester. Since we moved in in 2015, 4 new businesses have opened up on our N Main block, and several more on S Main. Among those are two boutiques, Sugar Belle’s and The Prissy Peach, both of which have seen such success here that they have opened up secondary locations in Lexington. We have 2 owner/resident situations on N Main (including us) in which the business owner lives upstairs – and another building on the block was recently sold and will be undergoing renovations for the same setup. We also have a slew of businesses that offer classes such as floral design, painting, plumbing 101, kid's theatre, door decoration, and our own classes on the potter’s wheel. Leed’s Theatre underwent over $100,000 of renovations and has had amazingly successful shows including sold-out shows of Hairspray. And let us not forget about the amazing Farmer’s Market that runs on Depot street for the spring and summer months!
Now, I am not trying to say that we are perfect. A lot of work is in progress, some of which will take years to finish. But what can we all do to help? You can put your money where your mouth is and shop local, you can like and share posts online from your neighborhood businesses, or maybe write reviews online to share your good experiences with these local shops.
But the biggest and best thing we can ALL do is simply watch our words and change our narrative on downtown. Realize that when we speak, people listen. When you are telling a story about how you once found a needle on the sidewalk, stop and think “when was that? 5 years ago? 10?”. Consider the last time that you walked down the sidewalk on a Saturday. Did you feel unsafe because there were gangsters and homeless people chasing you, or was it because you mentally deem the place unsafe from stories that you’ve heard about it? Do you warn people not to go to Walmart because it is unsafe? Because the fact is that the police department receives more calls for active crimes to our ‘Supercenter’ than downtown.
I say we give our Main Street the gift of a blank slate. And I would even encourage you to do so on a regular basis. We are seeing a lot of changes – and more are definitely heading our way. Plan to go to events hosted by Main Street Winchester, stop into the Cairn for a coffee or lunch, swing by Court Street Gifts to treat yourself, or take in a show at Leed’s Theatre. Open your eyes and see that downtown is alive and growing before them – and realize that you are a part of it now.