Friday, September 26, 2008

It ain't Wall Street

In all the economic upheaval, it's been kind of nice to hear politicians say they are thinking not just about Wall Street, but about Main Street too. Shucks, guys - we didn't know you cared!

So while Main Street is the new buzzword, I thought I'd chime in -- from Main Street, Middletown --about how things look from the cheap seats.

How is the economy doing right here?

Most places I shop downtown are holding their own, but are feeling very cautious as they face the important holiday shopping season, which can make or break our retailers. "So far so good, but I'm watching that fourth quarter" as one shop-owner said to me. Others are more pessimistic -- one long-time storekeep said: "How is it? It's not good." But on the positive side, I hear from retailers who think that more people are shopping local because they are reluctant to drive out of town. And the new It's Only Natural Market just posted their best Monday in the history of the business (perhaps thanks to the terrific article in the Eye by Pearse Pinch!)

Commercial real estate in the downtown seems sort of schizophrenic -- there's ongoing investment (yesterday I wrote about Fiore's new storefront windows) but there's also a few stubborn vacancies, which don't seem to be attracting viable new business tenants. Sometimes that's good -- when landlords are hungry, it makes room for a new crop of creative, risk-taking entrepreneurs. But it also leaves us with a "knocked-out" teeth smile, when you walk past empty storefronts.

The restaurants seem a little soft - and I've noticed a new interest in advertising on their part - but you can still find people waiting for a table here and there, and the sidewalk seating at Amici's and First & Last is still hot. And new businesses like the Taqueria in the North End are filling seats every night, and clearly drawing from outside the neighborhood. Still, it can be pretty quiet on those early weeknights.

How about the banks? We're all watching that one. Our banks are a key anchor in our downtown, and most (except, notably, for Liberty Bank) are attached to very large institutions -- chains, if you will -- that make decisions at some corporate headquarters. That's a little scary when it comes time for them to economize. I hope they stay solid, because the local people who work at these big companies are very much part of our Main Street community.

Happily, the news is good for local tourist attractions (full disclosure: I'm with Kidcity) -- the "stay-cation" has brought new people to town who might have gone Sunday-driving in Litchfield or Cape Cod in better days. We're glad to have them.

So if you can't offer a $700 billion bailout, but you'd still like to do your part to help the economy, then join us down on Main Street. 'Cause all the cool people shop local.

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