Monday, March 09, 2015

It's Not Revitalization

In the local paper today there is a story about the City of Salem's efforts to generate a more vivid downtown.

Community leaders decline to call it "revitalization" but instead call it "the downtown plan."

This made me smile. As news reporter with 30 years under my belt, I've covered more "revitalization" plans that I care to remember. None ever turn out like their initial schemes, but I don't recall that any actually made a situation worse.

I don't go to Salem much anymore. I visit downtown Salem maybe once a year. The last time I was there, I went into Ridenhour Music to see about a guitar, but they were all upstairs and I wasn't able to climb the steps to see what they had to offer.

Before I had difficulty walking, I made a stop in Salem every year at the holidays. They have a couple of nifty stores that offer unique items.

When I was child, I spent a lot of time in Salem. It was quite different, then. My grandmother, who lived along the Roanoke River, kept my brother and me every summer. We saved up our pennies and quarters, and my grandmother would walk with us to downtown Salem. I think the walk was about 1.5 miles, one way. Grandma would have been in her late 40s or early 50s, so it was a trudge for her. After we reached the age of 10 or so, we went by ourselves - even rode our bikes uptown. I suppose today that would be considered child abuse given the current climate, but we came to no harm.

We would go to Newberry's, which was a dime store, where we were filled with the wonder of model cars, paddle balls, and those glider airplanes you could put together and then throw for 10 feet or so. The paddle balls lasted until the rubber string broke, which as I recall was usually pretty quickly. I also bought a set of jacks there, coloring books and crayons, and other things that a child in 1970 would enjoy.

With our purchases in hand, we'd trudge down the street to Brooks Byrd Pharmacy, dimes in our pocket, so we could have a snow cone. I always purchased the blue one.

Sometimes on the way back to my grandmother's house, we'd stop off at Aunt Pearl's house for a Coke. Aunt Pearl was my great-great aunt, and she lived to be 106 years old. Grandma and Aunt Pearl would talk about all kinds of things while Grandma rested and we played with our new toys. Then we'd finally go back home, and our purchases kept us occupied and out of Grandma's hair for a few days.

That is the Salem I remember. I don't think any "downtown plan" can look backwards because times have changed. Retail is out, internet shopping is in. While I prefer to look at the things I purchase, feel material, handle items and make sure they aren't broken or scratched, many people don't seem to mind looking at a picture and hitting "buy now." That's the reality of the world we live in. Shopping and purchasing has changed.

I don't know what Salem, or any other place, for that matter, could do to draw folks into its community. I will be watching their plan with interest.


  1. And then Buchanan could use them and it would be a bustling place again.

  2. We live in a small town, it use to be a bustling town for the city folk to get away (5 -6 hours west of NYC), it use to be a bustling train and subway stop. Now, the town is beyond dying...we just went through a spell that the hosp. was in the midst of closing. I wish NY didn't have so many rules and regulations, wish that big city governor would see what his decisions are causing us upstater's / southern tier folk are going through. Just sad to see small towns closing many reasons to list here on why they are. I pray Salem gets back on their feet, look forward to reading more. Blessings

  3. I loved Newberry's! It was a long trip from Roanoke, though, so I didn't get to go often.

  4. I wonder if today's younger generations are going to have the same type of nostalgia that we feel about our childhoods.


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