This holiday season is the first one in my life where I recall making most of our family purchases at downtown stores instead of at a shopping mall, big box retailer, lifestyle center, or other strip suburban commercial complex. One of the attributes that drew us to relocate to beautiful Traverse City in the first place was its vibrant, active, healthy, and energetic downtown core centered around Front Street. We have not been disappointed, as Front Street and all of downtown Traverse City (including Old Town, West End, and the Warehouse District) is a marvelous gem waiting to be explored on foot or by bicycle.
Just last year (in 2014), my wife and I had grown so weary of the artificial and superficial world of suburban shopping, that the vast majority of our holiday purchases were made online. I don’t know about you, but to us most suburbs look eerily alike – essentially one endless sea of tail lights; artificial Vegas-like glitz; often dull, mind-numbing architecture; and impersonal/inhuman scale.
While shopping downtown may not be as common as it was prior to World War II, there are numerous cities, large and small, who have been able to successfully maintain or revive their core shopping district. Examples include cities big and small – New York City (Midtown Manhattan); Chicago (Michigan Avenue); Boulder (Pearl Street); San Francisco (Union Square); Cincinnati (Fountain Square); Boston (Boylston Street); Cocoa, Florida (Brevard Avenue); Scottsdale (Old Town); downtown Ashland, Oregon: or Carmel, Indiana (Main Street).
Beyond the reasons listed previously, we found strolling along the festive downtown sidewalks to be so much more relaxing and pleasurable than the frenetic pace found along boring commercial corridors. We were able to park our car and wander from store to store enjoying the holiday decorations, street performers, and the overall good cheer of our fellow shoppers.
No matter how much you dress up and decorate an impersonal big box or mall, it is still an impersonal big box or a mall. It still exudes a shallow, money-centric feel that leaves this holiday shopper cold. Maybe Ebenezer Scrooge or the Grinch would like it, but not those of us who prefer the authentic to the superficial.
If your city has been smart enough and forward-thinking enough to maintain and/or restore a vibrant downtown shopping and entertainment district, please take advantage of this wonderful asset in your community. If not, please consider speaking out in behalf of re-establishing those missing aspects in your community…and especially try to frequently patronize those retailers, restaurants, and other businesses that have remained downtown.
As with any living organism…and a city is indeed a living entity…it cannot survive without a healthy core (heart center). Please join me by celebrating the heart center of your community. Namaste!
I live in Chicago and have been familiar with the downtown shopping geography for most of my life. Michigan Avenue (the “Magnificent Mile”) isn’t really the core downtown shopping district. It’s the core upscale shopping district. The downtown core is on State and Wabash, and isn’t doing so well. Michigan Avenue shopping has been disrupted in recent years by protesters, and by groups of juvenile delinquents and criminals from distant neighborhoods who have gone there in mobs via mass transit, explicitly to engage in disorderly conduct – and to rob shoppers, including tourists. Shoppers who don’t look like them. If I had enough money to shop like the middle-class person that I am (despite being unemployed), I’d have to have an explicit plan to go either to the Loop or Michigan Avenue to shop, because I’d want to have a car and park it in a safe garage, and a list of stores to go to, and what for. I don’t like crushing crowds, or schlepping bulky items home on mass transit.
Thank you, Jean.