Let’s Hear it for Main Street!

Even though we’ve got until 2024, when Pluto leaves Capricorn, to figure out the implications of this important transit, it’s never too early to start. When a friend of mine recently asked me what it was all about, I told her that I thought it would be bad for Wall Street and good for Main Street. Not long after that I was surprised to hear that thestreet.com had started a sister site called mainstreet.com. I took that as a (emphasis on “a”) confirmation of my theory.

What do I mean by Main Street? Let’s start with the place. There aren’t that many great main streets left in the U.S. Beacon, N.Y., where we live most of the time, has a pretty good one, with lots of great red brick buildings from the early 1900s. But except in towns that depend on tourism for a living, main streets have been devastated.

I used to blame the “big-box” stores like Wal-Mart for driving Main Street shops out of business, but that thinking was pretty short-sighted. The real culprits are those who valued low prices at the expense of being able to walk to a store and socialize with their neighbors on Main Street. Now that gas prices are so high, it makes sense for me to walk to the local hardware store instead of driving to Home Depot even if the hammer costs a little more on Main Street.

Another factor is e-commerce, which is hurting brick-and-mortar retailers, on Main Street and at the mall. To cite an example close to home, Debra Adamsons recently converted her antiquarian bookstore  in Beacon solely to an Internet operation. I miss hanging out with Deb at World’s End Books. But I understand that she can make more money on the Web than she can from selling out of a building, no matter how pretty it is. Big-box stores have driven a lot of small bookstores out of business across the country, but I can’t really blame Barnes & Noble for World’s End’s disappearance from Main Street since they don’t stock old books.

The stores that have been able to survive and thrive on Main Street are those that offer personal services — hairdressers, nail salons, and places to exercise like Juliet Harvey’s Beacon Pilates after you’ve hit the restaurants, bars, and coffee houses, which attract tourists from Dia Beacon.

I still think that Pluto in Cap could bring back Main Street. I think this slow-moving transit will generate an interest in history and preservation. For those who love Main Streets as much as I do, check out www.mainstreet.org, an arm of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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