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Street Talk

The drag racing expression is, and note I’m referring to the automotive one and not the RuPaul one, is “break it in on the burnout.” Which came to mind Monday night as the tornado sirens went off and I thought of those brand-new power lines and poles getting a wide-open throttle wind test.  Power did not even flicker here on the east side of town. 

Last weekend was the great power out and this weekend is the great “shop out.” Yes, it is that time of year. For that last decade, the Downtown Open House has been in early November to beat the looming threat of the post-Thanksgiving “Black Friday” big box retail stores onslaught. That threat is more recently compounded by “Cyber Monday” of online shopping and the rise of Amazon. 

I’ll say this about the November shop local effort, it has worked and the town as a whole has embraced the year-round shop local effort. That has made a significant positive difference in the Valley’s economic life, not just during the holidays.

Downtown does so much more than retail, yet retail is the shining spot on which every downtown is judged. So please be out and about downtown this coming Saturday.

For downtown has always been much more than “retail” as we think of it now. Let’s take a trip back 120 years to Water Valley’s downtown of 1898. Back before electricity, automobiles, big box stores, online shopping.  Back to the age when catalog sales were the coming threat to local merchants. We can do that via Sanborn maps, these were detailed maps made for insurance companies in regard to fire ratings, Yes, the fire rating of the town was a critical economic health issue then as is now. 

Sanborn mapped Water Valley eight times in a 50-year period from 1890 to 1940. By 1898, the downtown as we know it was largely set in terms of buildings and layout. But what were the businesses? 

In looking at the blocks on Main Street from Martin Street to Wagner Street in 1898, here’s a quick analysis of the business mix. There were four grocery stores, three butcher shops, three barber shops, five drug stores, two bakeries, three bookstores, three hardware stores, two printing shops, and two banks. Plus, places like a tin shop, a harness maker, pool room, musical instrument shop, a bicycle and gun shop, and a dress maker. One of the bookstores also sold cigars. There were six business classified as general shops or what we’d think of as retail. 

Much has changed in the last 120 years for the better and some for the worse. But downtown as the center of economic life, the real reason towns are towns in the first place, has not changed. Shopping local keeps the Valley going on. 

See the big flyer in this week’s paper and come out on Saturday to downtown.

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