Monday, March 6, 2017

Guest View-Rosalie Roszak: What Makes a Main Street?

Town Of Oro Valley is planning a "Main Street Areas" According to the town: "These areas will be walkable and unique and include places to gather, dine and shop.." This is the Part 1 of a three part posting. We will post parts 2 and 3 on Wednesday and Friday of this week.

Part 1: Main Streets Of The Past

Small Town Main Streets
I grew up in Flushing, New York in the 1950s and 1960s in an area with a local “main street” although we never called it that.

Our little main street, Francis Lewis Boulevard, had a variety of stores and services located in two long, walkable blocks. We had a pharmacy, bakery, dairy store, two delicatessen’s, a butcher shop, shoemaker, beauty salon, a Chinese laundry, and a TV and Radio repair shop. We also had local institutions, including George’s Junk Shop -- a variety store packed literally floor-to-ceiling with merchandise, and only the owner knew where anything was. His store surely gave the fire department nightmares.

We also had a luncheonette counter serving a variety of hamburgers, eggs, milk shakes and cherry cokes, candy, newspapers and sundries. New Yorkers called them “candy stores.” Finally, we had a small older A&P Supermarket and a wonderful Italian grocery store with a meat counter and various other products. The owners of this store knew all their customers, and we also knew their children, who began working there at about age six.

As a small child, I walked to these stores with my mother. As I grew older, she would send me on my own to pick up various items. My mother didn’t drive at that time, and we walked everywhere or rode the bus. Our local “main street” area did have some parking in the front of the stores which could get crowded at times. Most people walked to these local stores. Another somewhat larger local Main Street area was one mile in the other direction, and this area had more varied stores including clothing stores, a florist, etc.

My older neighborhood local main street area evolved naturally along a busy thoroughfare. It was walkable. It served as a neighborhood “gathering place” although there was no central focus area.

Regional Main Streets
Similar local shopping districts, some larger and with more services, were located about one mile from one another in our community. These areas were serviceable, but not particularly attractive. They all evolved to provide needed services for area residents.

Flushing also had a large, regional “Main Street” about three miles from our house, which required a bus ride. This regional area (the starting point for the subway line into Manhattan) was always crowded as buses delivered commuters from all over the region to the subway line or just to shop. Main Street Flushing was our regional shopping area, with a couple of department stores, and about a half-mile area lined with a variety of smaller clothing stores, shoe stores, deli’s and restaurants, bagel shops, etc. Of course, the area has evolved considerably since the 1960’s, but remains today as a busy regional transportation and shopping hub.

Some communities I’ve visited such as Prescott, Arizona, were built around a central Town Square Plaza area. As an example of how Main Streets evolve in various ways and have different focal points, my regional Main Street Flushing area had the subway line entrance stations as their focal point. A variety of non-descript stores were built starting from about 1930, to serve both the commuters and local and regional area residents. The grouping of stores became a draw themselves, acting as a regional center.

Growing Pains and Urban Renewal in Small Town America
Flushing is a very old community, settled originally by the Dutch in the late 1600’s. Yet the downtown Flushing Main Street commuter serving area retained none of this focus in the incarnation I remember from the 1960s and 1970s, and certainly did not have any of the charm.

Flushing's Rendesvous Point
The area has evolved once again, and presently is a thriving regional shopping center for Asian communities. Many of us who grew up there in the 1950s through 1970s would not recognize the area today, although some landmarks remain. Our former local department store “Gertz,” is now Macy’s, and the clock at the corner of Main Street and Roosevelt Avenue where the subway line begins remains today. “Under the clock” always served as a rendezvous point for trips into Manhattan, local shopping trips, etc.

Click here to learn more about Flushing's Main Streets.

Part 2: “Oro Valley’s Main Street Locations” will be published on Wednesday.
Rosalie Roszak is a 25 year resident of Oro Valley, moving here in 1992 with husband Rudy, in search of good air quality. She grew up in Flushing, New York and has also resided in Washington, D.C., Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, California. She has a Master’s Degree in Urban Economics from University of California Santa Barbara, and worked for more than 40 years in the Commercial Real Estate Appraisal and Economic Consulting fields before recently retiring.