So, I have been lamenting the loss of so many of my favorite retail establishments—Radio Shack, Tower Records, Borders, and on and on—so many places where I enjoyed browsing.
I began to think about putting together a main street that would encapsulate the retail and service outlets of my experience, or at least my memory. Then I thought about categorizing some of the types. Then, I thought, I can’t do this all myself. Let me ask for help!
So imagine a Main Street (or High Street) populated with all the types of brick-and-mortar establishments of your memory. (Let’s set an arbitrary limit at the year 1960, perhaps.)
Type A: Establishments that existed back then and continue to exist largely the same in concept, perhaps with smaller numbers
- Hair salons
- Auto mechanic/auto body repair shops
- Barber shops
- Cigar stores
- Ice cream shops
- Fuel/service stations
Type B: Establishments that arose more recently and seem to be going strong
- Nail salons
- “Blowout” bars (hair wash and dry)
- Convenience stores
- Fast food
- Fast casual dining
- Artisanal coffee shops
- Dollar stores
- Party supply stores
Type C: Establishments almost entirely eliminated or at least severely diminished by technology or other factors, such as being absorbed into larger business concepts
- Book stores
- News stands
- Candy stores
- Computer stores
- Appliance repair stores
- Stereo/audio and TV stores
- Music stores
- Music schools
- Video game stores
- Video and movie rental shops
- Toy stores
- Department stores
- Butcher shops
- Video arcades
- Penny arcades (pinball and other mechanical games)
- Malt shops
- Hardware stores
- Home appliance stores
- Camera stores and film developers
- Art supply stores
- Movie theaters
- Electronics supply shops
Anyone want to play?
Type A is missing a bar & grill.
Here is a nice selection, I used to live a couple blocks in the opposite direction. A 7-Eleven was on the corner at the time.
The Main Street of my home town in the 1960s had these things:
Pharmacies (now almost all gone – business went to the big drug stores away from downtown)
Auto Stores (although the mechanics moved out)
Luncheonette/Soda Fountain (no ice cream stores)
Banks and Savings and Loans (you left these out)
Lots of Bars (you left those out, too)
Laundry (a Chinese Laundry, no less!)
Municipal Buildings – Library, Police, Fire, Borough Hall, Post Office
Convenience store, believe it or not. (In addition, there were little “Mom and Pop” corner grocery stores serving much the same function.)
Department Stores (plus a “5 and dime”)
Newsstands (just closed last year!)
It now has
A Plethora of small, mainly ethnic restaurants
We don’t have, and never have had
The Borough Hall and Police Office and Post Office are still there, but Fire and the Library moved out.
A “five and dime”, whose function has been absorbed by Wal-Mart and the various dollar stores.
Your pharmacy is going to need a soda fountain (with ice cream to make floats) and counter with gleaming chrome seats to be complete. My tiny home town still had one until the early 80’s although it wasn’t used much by then and greatly predated that era.
A hamburger and fries stand (not McDonalds) and/or a traditional diner would be good as well.
Don’t the delinquents get somewhere to go in your mind town?
A. Dive bar.
C. Pool Hall.
The Wisconsin town I grew up in had a 3-block long main street, with at least ten taverns. At least two hardware stores, bakeries, specialized mens’/ladies’ clothing stores, shoe stores, jewelry stores, barber shops, hair salons, grocery stores (no carts), dime stores, banks, radio (later TV) sales and services, feed stores, and at the ends, farm implement dealers. Realtors, insurance and law offices were also typically in store fronts. (ca. 1945-50.)
The main street of the San Diego neighborhood I grew up in in the '80s (Ocean Beach, OB to those in the know) was mostly antique and knick-knack stores. There was a single-screen movie theater, a hotel by the beach, a Bank of America, a head shop, a drug store with an ice cream counter, another ice cream shop, a nightclub, a video arcade, a video store, and a plethora of restaurants - I recall a sit-down diner with Mediterranean food, two Mexican restaurants, a barbeque place, and Hodad’s, home of the world’s best burger.
If you’ve ever seen the movie Almost Famous, the establishing shots at the very beginning of the movie were filmed there.
A florist shop. We still have one of my Main Street and there’s one on the Main Street of the next town over.
When I was a kid we had something called a Tea Rooms. It was like a Cafe only not, or like a Deli only not, or maybe like a Starbucks or a Bakery or… well, you get the idea. It was very British (even though it was in New Zealand) and though the general concept still exists in an adjusted form, specific foods and the general quiet genteel atmosphere have long since faded away, and I miss it.
I miss Book Stores the most, though.
Professional photography studio
Small time print shop
Seamstress (they not only did alterations, they made wedding gowns)
Traditional small town downtown areas are not completely dead. There are still plenty of them in New England. The smaller and wealthier Boston suburbs have picture perfect ones and New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine still have true general stores among all types of small but thriving stores.
My Boston area town is revitalizing its downtown area to be more old-school and the town nearby that I used to live in and my kids still do never lost theirs. There are very few chain stores to be found and even those are small and inconspicuous. It is all about mom and pop shops including a Superette (an old school grocery story combined with a deli) and a semi-famous kids store that was first opened during the Civil War and most of them seem to do just great.
It isn’t easy to pull off but it can be done with some planning. Other areas like McKinney, Texas among many others restored their original downtown areas with great success as well. There really is a market for that type of thing but it has to pulled off authentically and with some modern concessions in mind but the general idea is still completely viable in some places.
There was a nice gift shop where I grew up. Filled with ceramic figurines & knick knacks, candles, some books, greeting cards. A wonderful place to browse and look around.
There was an old family run hardware store. Filled with parts, tools, and even home kitchen Ware. Every nook and cranny had something in it. Somehow, the salesman could always find whatever you wanted.
How about a Chamber of Commerce/Visitor information center?
What happened to what we called supper clubs?
They were always dimly lit, had the amber or red colored glass candle holders on each table that had a white tablecloth on it, matchbooks with their name, soft music playing in the background and the waitresses were always middle aged ladies who were very experienced in their job. They even wore uniforms - black skirts, white blouses and an apron.
Now, most restaurants are loud sports bars or if not an actual sports bar there are still TV’s on all walls.
There needs to be a section for mall shops:
Cajun stir fry joints (ran by Asians)
I believe Chick Fil-A got their start in shopping malls.
When I was a kid, our three-block long main street had two barber shops, two hardware stores, two grocery stores, a veterinarian, an old hotel that was converted into apartments, another apartment building next to it, a corner park, a feed store, bar/bowling alley, two gas stations, legion hall, post office, lawyers office, locker plant, cafe, newspaper office, laundromat, furniture store, body shop, a honey producer, and three more bars plus some other buildings that were various things or were empty.