Thursday, April 5, 2007
A particular story in the March 17 edition of the Marion County, Ala., Journal Record caught my eye – “Breathing life into downtown.”
Renovations are scheduled in downtown Winfield, Ala., to the old Hollis Pharmacy building, adjacent to the Pastime Theater. The building was built in 1928.
Winfield Main Street is purchasing the former site of the pharmacy to allow for theater expansion and new meeting space. It would offer access to more than 5,000 additional square feet to be used for theater events and community functions.
“We are very excited about this project and what it will do for the theater’s needs and the overall appearance of the downtown district,” said Mary Hyche, chairman of the Pastime Theater Board.
The building is being bought by the theater board and Winfield Main Street for $125,000.
Shortly after Hyche’s brief presentation to the Winfield City Council, the city leaders approved a measure to provide up to $100,000 in matching funds for the renovation work. The city also agreed to pay the $2,750 fee involved with a Phase I environmental study at the site. The city would also be responsible for the annual insurance payment on the site.
Winfield Main Street has also contacted state and federal elected officials, who have pledged support for the project. The city is also seeking grants to assist.
It appears to be a team effort in Winfield. This example of boosting downtown could be an excellent example for lots of others towns of similar size.
I know in Aberdeen, where we lived for eight years, the historic Elkin Theatre is still alive, being used by the community – for performances, for arts, for entertainment. And the community itself – the clubs, the organizations, Main Street, the city, the people – are responsible for keeping it going.
Growing up I loved my short trips to downtown Winfield or downtown Hamilton, Ala. Both had thriving downtown areas - about the same size - and plenty of places for a child to window shop and occasionally buy a toy or two.
One of my favorites in Hamilton was the Western Auto. It’s not there anymore. It had those big windows in the front, so passers-by in automobiles or those people on the sidewalk could see lots and lots of stuff in the store.
There was Fred’s Pharmacy on the corner, a longtime landmark, home-owned and home-operated by Fred Sandlin and his son Sandy. It’s still in Hamilton, but has moved off the square to a new facility.
I often shopped at Rye’s men’s clothing store. That’s where I tried to stay in style and also share lots of laughs with owner Olan Rye. He sized me for my first three-piece suit. It’s closed, but I still occasionally ride by its location when passing through the downtown area on the way to my mother’s house.
I worked for a few years at Star Printing Co., then on one of the downtown corners, adjacent to Fikes Chevrolet. Both, due to needs to expand to larger facilities, have moved to other parts of the city.
I even used to cruise the downtown area on weekend nights – I guess once a favorite pastime for teens in any small town. I’ve heard stories of that happening in Holly Springs, too, plus lots of other conversations about the good times downtown from years ago.
Downtown memories are special - be them from Holly Springs, Winfield, Hamilton, or anywhere else.
Downtowns are the center. They’re the heart. They’re important economic engines. It’s up to all of us to help maintain that heartbeat.
It’s true. Things change. Downtowns won’t ever be the same. Our children will never have the downtown memories we have.
But at the same time, it’s crucial we strive for downtown development and revitalization. It must be a focus – of any town, anywhere. We can all take a lesson from the folks in Winfield.
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