Monday, March 27, 2006

Lileks on Downtowns

From today's Bleat:
Outside the theater: trash. Across the street, where once a restaurant and a “New York Style” pizza restaurant stood: empty store fronts. In many of Block E’s ground-floor windows, pictures of people having fun. Presumably they were having fun elsewhere, since windows with pictures means an empty store front on the other side of the glass. Down the block, the unforgiveable concrete carbuncle of the Skyway Movie Theater, a 70s excrescence that now houses some dance clubs. Next to it, the old Musicland store – vacated four years ago, never filled; on the other side, the slender terra-cotta façade of the Teener’s Theatrical Supply House, recently vacated.

It looks bad. It feels bad.

It’s not permanent. A few new restaurants are coming in; if the disputes are every between over the Skyway’s owners, something new will happen on the spot – the uncertainty is what keeps the other places vacant, I think. (I hope.) But it’s a hard patch for Hennepin. I remember worse – far worse. But it reminds me that pulling for downtown – any downtown in a medium-sized city – sometimes feels like a luxury, a hobbyhorse, a game for nostalgia junkies who believe in some alchemic formula that will bring it all back to life. Sure, it was indispensable once; sure, everyone went downtown. Yes, this was the heart of the town, the big parade, the place where you got your first Sunday suit, got your teeth drilled, had an ice cream with mom in the department store, saw a lawyer, got drunk, met a girl, caught a movie in the balcony on a summer afternoon. This was it, brother.

But it isn’t anymore.

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