Charles Town: It’s our town. It’s the place where a great many of us were born and raised; and the place where many others have migrated and now call home. Either way, Charles Town is a place of great character, incredible history and a small, quirky town that we all know and love.
Those of us who were born and raised here have watched as Charles Town has been evolving into a new and different town.
Many of us remember Friday nights downtown when we were growing up. First stop was the Bank of Charles Town where the lobby was a place where we knew everyone. We would then proceed downtown where we would go to Stuck and Alger, Dollar General, JC Penny, Newberry’s, Western Auto and many more. Practically everything could be found downtown. My favorite then and now was always the hardware store. The smell was intoxicating of days gone by and Mr. Bush always had everything you could imagine in the way of hardware.
As kids, we played at the park while the place to be in the summer was the tennis courts. We went to the movies downtown. The newest and hippest records could be found at Leslie’s Record Land on 45, or the whole album on 33. We drank vanilla cokes from Stuck and Alger. We rode to school on hay wagons and tractors for fun while laughing hysterically the whole way. We walked around downtown because it was fun, because it was the place to be.
Today, the face and culture of downtown has changed. Gone is some of our small town feel due to development, large stores and just simply change. Strangely, many who were born and raised in our small town left after high school to see the world and to find something better. However, the homecoming began several years ago when people began to return and our town began to embark on an incredible transformation.
The main residential streets of Charles Town are full of history and character. Homes on Mildred, Church, Samuel and Seminary streets have qualities and features that only the days of yesteryear can offer. While many of these homes were filled with an older generation years ago, the transformation of these neighborhoods has started. A great deal of these homes are now filled with 30- to 40 something owners who have taken great pride in restoring and updating their properties. They have started participating in and taking an active role in community development. They have gotten involved in the economic development of our Main Street and have a strong desire to turn downtown around and make it a mainstay in our community as it once was.
While some believe it is impossible to turn the downtown area back around, many of us believe that a thriving downtown, among other things, is why we are all here. We love the feel of small-town America. We love the history and sense of community that our small town has. And let’s face it; we love that fact that we know practically everyone here, what’s going on and who is doing what. Being in the know, or simply thinking that you are, is what makes a small town function and thrive.
The merchants who are involved downtown work hard to keep it going, while they are often overlooked by shoppers. We have an amazing wine shop, a bookstore where you can have lunch, read, or even have a glass of wine. There is ice cream, coffee, vintage shops, restaurants, a barber shop, real estate offices and Valley Hardware still exists with its abundance of wares and that intoxicating smell of days gone by. While we may not have an anchor store like JC Penny any longer, there is still a lot of life downtown.
So the question becomes — what can we do as a community to move our town to a Main Street destination? The answer is simple; we all need to support and help make downtown grow and prosper. As consumers and residents, we need to make an effort to support the merchants who sometimes struggle to make it work. As merchants, we all need to come together to make things happen. We need to continue to create buzz for downtown and participate in activities. As a family of merchants, we also need to help and support each other. We have the opportunity and the foresight to become a fantastic urban destination with amazing character and history. However, to make it happen we all need to participate. The bottom line is this: downtown merchants are your friends and neighbors. Why not support them before heading to a store run by Big Box America?
Look at small towns like Phillipsburg, Penn., or Cooperstown, N.Y. They are small towns thriving by maintaining their small-town feel. Even TV shows like “The Gilmore Girls” in Stars Hollow, Conn., evoke that small-town feel where all the residents are constantly involved in downtown activities.
With the empty space that is now available due to the new buildings that APUS has added to our downtown environment, it would seem that now would be an opportune time to consider possibly changing the use of this space. Downtown is in dire need of nice, urban apartment space. Perhaps, transforming this space into really neat urban apartment-type living would encourage more foot traffic downtown. Consider adding downtown residents who would walk to coffee shops, restaurants, and Saturday morning markets. With the object of pulling people into our downtown area, it makes sense to plant people in town as residents. There is no reason that downtown Charles Town could not be residential community, and possibly have the feel of Old Towne Frederick or even Georgetown. We have the tools to make it happen; now we have to put a plan into action.
It would be a shame to lose our downtown area as it is filled with countless memories and dreams for all of us who were raised here. It is now time for those of us who hold those memories to come together with those who have moved here who want to create the same type of memories for their own families and future generations.
In theory, we all have the same goal. I am always interested in talking to folks about ideas for downtown. I think together we can all come up with some amazing solutions and turn our small town into the best Main Street in America.
— Angela Kable Johnson is the senior agent at Blackwell Property Management and can be reached at 304-279-7468.