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A stroll down Main Street can lead to a time of reflection.
Yes, the old Main Street hangouts are gone, along with their promise of hand-dipped ice cream and racks full of “funny books.” They have been lost to a fast-paced world, where shoppers demand drive-through service and the convenience of a highway that bypasses downtown.
Friendly conversations still abound. While I can’t plop down at a drug store counter, I always enjoy bantering with downtown chefs who replaced “soda jerks.”
Standing outside the Red Rose Barbershop, I reflect on the adjacent block’s previous tenants – a police station, fire station and water tower, a graceful Southern home. Across from it was a reverent church with ascending steps.
The restored Robert Mills’ courthouse, one of our finest treasures, is still there. It is now home to a welcome center full of local artists’ works, along with a museum that honors a rich past.
All the other structures on that block have been replaced by necessity with modern, easy-access buildings.
The Kimbrell’s building stands sentinel, holding its secrets as a one-time hotel, restaurant and general store. It has also moved to provide customers with a well-lit, spacious showroom.
The building I remember as a stationery store is now home to an art business, with artists coming and going to work in the studios that can be seen from the sidewalk. It is topped by apartments that provide a peaceful view of the street below.
A pretty park appears, with public artwork and fountain, enticing me to spend a few minutes on one of the benches.
That site once partially housed a busy department store. I’m thankful the Main Street sidewalk there was made safer by removing the threat of the owner-abandoned decaying building.
It strikes me that I am staring at what once had been Collins-Dunn, a department store that seemed as large as the giant box stores that drove it off Main Street.
Now housed within its walls is the world’s largest collection of Native American pottery and artifacts. It boggles my mind to think of the visitors from across the world coming to the Main Street I grew up loving. Students come and go through the doors of the Native American Studies Center, one assisting senior citizens from a bus, who once again possess a reason to see downtown Lancaster.
The regal Bank of Lancaster still holds its place of importance as the center of Main Street. The huge second-story clock is long gone, but it’s still a beautiful building, saved from being replaced with a box store by someone who shares my penchant for the past.
But, we can’t look back and forward at the same time. “The Old Reliable” awaits a new tenant, with a promise they will be chosen wisely for their ability to restore the beautiful wood, marble and brass.
On down is the former savings and loan, now home to a bustling law practice, whose owners saved the Bank of Lancaster from destruction.
The interior remains unchanged from days flown by. Stepping inside to say hello, I feel as if I have stepped back in time, except for the fashions sported by the young staff.
The property across the street, on the east side of Main, between Arch and Gay streets, has undergone changes. An empty corner, where a building once stood, is now grassy and green and home to community concerts and downtown events.
C.B.’s Limited, a family-owned business that occupies the next space, has also used the City of Lancaster’s facade grant program to update its awning. Massively impressive, the historic Springs block marches southward from C.B’s and almost to the next corner.
Now the fate of the “Springs Block” and the beautiful old post office on the next corner remain with its present owners. Only time can determine its destiny.
The former Parr Theatre has a new life as apartments for elderly, with retail shops below. Thinking of the fate of these beautiful old theaters in most downtowns, I’m thankful for the Main Street revitalization project that saved it.
I pause to stare at the “The Spirit of Lancaster: Forward Together” mural where a diner once stood – and keep it in my thoughts as I enter Charley’s Café to enjoy a sandwich, hopefully, along with some great conversation.
Can we bring all of the Main Street we knew back? Of course not.
Today’s online shoppers have grown accustomed to eye-catching displays, air conditioning, bright lights, surround-sound music and attention-grabbing merchandise.
What we can bring back are the things we never lost – our love of community, our desire to meet a friendly face as we stroll the sidewalks and the appreciation for where we came from.
– Cherry Doster is the manager of marketing and development for See Lancaster SC