Going Downtown

Just got back from a round of Monday morning errands with my mom. We went grocery shopping.

Then we got back in the car and drove a mile down the road to Walgreen’s.

Then we got back in the car and drove two miles to the fruit market.

Then we got back in the car and drove three miles to the bank.

Then we got back in the car and drove to Panera for lunch.

“Gee, wouldn’t it be nice,” I mused, “if they would cluster all these important kinds of commercial places in one square mile so that you could park in a central location and walk to everything you needed?"

My mother laughed. “It’s called a Downtown,” she said sarcastically. “It’s how things used to be, and it sure made life a lot easier."

Ah, how things used to be. It’s a phrase I find myself trotting out more and more often these days.

“Look at the way that girl is dressed,” I’ll say. “It used to be that a girl would never be allowed out of the house looking like that."

Or, “I used to pay less than a dollar for this tuna fish and now the same can costs $1.98!"

And “It used to be that I could drink coffee or tea anytime and I wanted and it wouldn’t bother me a bit."


Seriously, though, some things were better in the "old days." Take the concept of a downtown. We’re always hearing about conserving energy, but look at all the traveling we have to do just taking care of basics. Does it matter if there’s a bank, gas station, drugstore, and restaurant on every corner when the corners are so far apart you have to drive to them to get there?

I don’t remember much about the days when my parents lived within walking distance of “downtown.” But I suspect that’s why my mother never learned to drive. Between her two legs and the public transportation system, she didn’t need to drive in order to get everything done.

I do recall the first indoor mall that opened about two miles from where we live now. Along with the “big box stores” - which meant Sears and Montgomery Wards - there was a Sav-On Grocery, a Cunningham’s drug store, a Kresge’s (we called it the “dime store,” the 1960’s version of a “dollar store") a barber shop, a shoe repair shop, a couple of restaurants, and a the movie theater.

It used to be (there I go again) that you could park your car in the huge parking lot and live your entire life within the climate controlled confines of Livonia Mall.

They tore the whole thing down about five years ago (except for the Sears, which is still standing), and now the spot contains a Walmart, a Kohl’s, and a collection of four or five min-strip malls with four or five stores in each one. No drugstore. No grocery store. No bank. No gas station. And nothing within walking distance of anything else.

It’s nuts.

Progress is great and all - and I do love some of the 21st century conveniences (cell phones! ATM machines! drive throughs!)

But I do believe there were some things that were better back in the good old days.

Like downtowns.

So I’m excited about living in close proximity to a “downtown.” Northville, our new city, has retained the small town feel while keeping things updated and upscale. I’ll have to get in the car to drive there, but I’m hoping to develop the habit of doing as much of my daily business in one location as possible.