For decades, certainly going back to the 1960s and maybe even into the late 1950s, the lament of the demise of the American small town business district has been a constant one.
Efforts to stem the tide and then reverse the trend away from small shops along a main street to first strip shopping centers, then malls, then big box stores and then a combinations of all those three – sometimes crafted to resemble the downtown of yore – have found only fleeting success, but in Harford County, at least, the death of downtown may have been somewhat largely exaggerated.
Havre de Grace’s recent installation of a downtown speaker system to broadcast “family friendly music” and programming during “select special events,” in the words of a city news release, is yet another attempt by this city administration, working with the local business community, to attract more visitors to Havre de Grace’s business district. Judging from the crowd that greeted Gov. Larry Hogan during the July 6 First Fridays celebration, these efforts are bearing fruit.
Mayor William T. Martin also spearheaded installation of the colored lighting system that allows the streetlight colors to be changed to fit a particular occasion, both happy and, on occasion, sad, such as following the line-of-duty deaths of police officers. Martin also brought in electric vehicle charging stations and new banners for the light poles, all part of what he has called an effort to make Havre de Grace 21st century city.
Certainly the results have been stellar, if not a bit ironic, because for a place like downtown Havre de Grace to thrive in the 21st century, there’s also been that element of recapturing that charm and utility of the small town business district of the mid-20th century and before. Nothing wrong with that, mind you, because it appears the right combination of then and now can pay dividends for residents, business and visitors alike.