I wanted to write an obituary for a dying Main Street, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I continue to hold out hope that some miracle will happen for our small town–I really do. Was our Main Street ever what it seemed? In reality, it has always been much more complex than it appears. As I hold the pages of the names of businesses that used to flourish on Carleton Place I wonder what happened to once was.
I try not to be nostalgic, but the town once had many features that helped define sustainable, smart growth: men’s and women’s clothing stores, shoe stores, hardware stores, a movie theater, drug stores, and the like. There was a constant flow of pedestrians like Joe Breard who once lived on Bell Street. He paid a daily visit to Garranat’s Barber Shop decked out in his spats, cane, and a pipe full of Tabac Francaise to chat and hear an earful of gossip.
Often, offices or apartments were located on the second or third floors, and all the Carleton Place druggists had two glass globes in their windows. One was filled with red liquid and the other green. No one knew why, and drugstore employee Billy Hughes never told anyone when asked many times.
Later in years Will Taber stopped riding his bicycle down Bridge Street with the wooden frame embellishments with nickle trimmings. Strip shopping centers slowly opened here and there, but for the most part, the town still thrived. But everyone had forgotten about Harry Schwerdtfeger’s Wooden Indian that once stood at the entrance to his store, and no one ever did find that sign that was stolen from his store. Things happened in the late 60s that changed things, spinning small downtowns everywhere into decline.
Highway 7 was completed. No longer did people need to travel through the downtown of Carleton Place to get somewhere else. So open land was where the newest thing landed– like Men from Mars. It was called the mall. Bayshore was better for shopping with air-conditioning, and you could find national chain stores like Eatons and The Bay. Better yet, there was tons of free parking and a food court.
In many small towns like ours there began an exodus of better educated baby boomers looking for higher paying jobs, leaving an aging population behind. No longer did professional men have their clothes made by the main street tailors like William Shaw. Those merchants once took your measurements and their many seamstresses made your suit. Baby boomers didn’t remember Shake McDiarmind offering a free pair of suspenders with a new suit–nor did they care.
Suburbia was exploding everywhere, even in a small town like Carleton Place. Why live in an older red brick home with your neighbors just a few feet away, when you could buy a nice new home on a bigger new lot near the edge of town? Now it was easier to drive to the mall rather than go into town and deal with parking and less choice. No longer were there dishes of ice cream and cold root beers sold on the Bridge Street–but the Dairy Queen on the highway satisfied all your needs.
Local economies were changing as the industries they had once counted on for tax resources were closing. The Hawthorne Mill, like the other mills in our town once employed many townsfolk, and the Hawthorne Mill was also the largest user of water and electricity in the town. Then big banks began swallowing up one another. No longer were the local financial relationships they once had with customers the same. Junior Clerks were no longer sleeping in their offices like they once did at the Union Bank--and full time employment became part time once ATMS came into play. People stopped shopping downtown, and the small grocers disappeared along with the bananas they used to hoist in the windows for ripening and display purposes.
Nothing will ever be the same as yesterday, and small towns like ours now find themselves in pretty rough shape. It takes good planning, vision, and excellent leadership by local leaders to begin to solve the problem. The public needs to support and encourage local business also. Not just once a month, but on a regular basis.
The days are gone when it was almost a daily occurrence to see a runway horse on Bridge Street. Now we need to pull the reigns in before the whole downtown runs away. The town also needs good old fashioned salesmanship and marketing with some luck on the side. Carleton Place business have been up and down before due to fires, wars and economy- but nothing like this.
Can it all come back? Some main streets do revitalize -but some downtowns may be just too far gone. Is it time to write the obituary for Carleton Place? An obituary can be a compelling story of a life as Carleton Place once had, and still can be. Instead, I write a short life story today as it is an alternative to writing an obituary in advance. When the obituary is needed, all the facts of the Carleton Place are already at hand– and I hope things change so I never have to write it.
It’s not time to say goodbye yet, but being very cautionary is now obviously in order. But when anyone’s in trouble small towns all help each other. We are that very little community that has that spirit to get in and do what’s got to be done. That’s one of the facts that make small town living so good. I know it’s easier said than done, but I would like to think we can put this downtown back on the map. Let’s at least try.
It’s a tough slog to be competitive. Landlords want to max their rent, and consumers want good value. Merchants are placed in a tight squeeze. They need to find the right products with the modern service that we now expect.
Everyone’s costs are through the roof – in Ottawa for years now landlords are responsible for paying tenants business tax – so it’s in the rent. Too many businesses were not paying. We need constant promotion etc as 7 annual events do not make a Main Street.. It’s a jungle no doubt about it- but other towns are doing it.
Hi Linda, what towns are doing it well? Do you know why are successful?
Almonte is doping well and it has no BIA. So is Perth and Merrickville. What does it take? Creativity– people think outside of the box. Not afraid to take chances.. not balk at anything new like I have seen first hand.. It takes time as nothing is done overnight.. But it can be done. I ahd a store that had 27 stairs that people had to walk up to the second floor. It became one of the most popular stores in Ottawa.. Hard work daily thinking and not being afraid to rock the boat to create a buzz.
You know retail is no different than anything else.. I began this blog barely 8 months ago and get thousands of readers every week… Work work work and do things differently than anyone else. If you do the same thing over and over it no longer works.– People need a reason to come.. You can no longer built it and they will come.
It takes all sorts of things to stay above water now.. as it is very difficult
Excellent article/story and fantastic pictures. I drove through town recently this summer and it made me sad to see that it is not what it once was. What some call “progress” has hurt it tremendously. No more train.New & big box stores etc..out on the highway has and is slowly but surely killing the down town core of Carleton Place, as they do to every small town they come to. It was inevitable to happen when town council, government bureaucrats etc.. allowed for it to happen instead of supporting the smaller businesses and keeping the integrity of the town in tact. I do not believe that Hwy#7 is to blame much as it brought me and my family there and I have many many great memories. Carleton Place was still doing okay & going strong in the 70’s & 80’s when I was living there.There was no empty restaurants or store fronts and the main street was always bustling with people out and about walking at all hours of the day and night. People driving around town,around and around and around. It was the thing to do, with their music up loud,gathering here and there. Parking was still allowed on both sides then too.The favorite town chip truck owned by Mike Muldoon,garnished line ups quite long in front of the bowling alley ( which I was glad to still see there) People would drive to town from the country just to have his fries cooked in peanut oil and then smothered in melted butter…mmmmmm. Back then you could take those fries and drive down to Riverside Park and sit in its beauty if you wanted. You could drive all the way through the park back then.Park and sit on the hood of your car anywhere you wanted. You could even have a camp fire, or set up a tent. It was an attraction for tourists & outsiders who would then go shop downtown for their supplies etc…Now you have to park on the road or near the canoe club some place and walk it.The Mississippi Hotel and the Queens Hotel always had bands and nightlife going on.Which brought more people to the downtown core.Oh! and the Golden Nugget. Who can forget the great cheap meals to be had there. It seems to me that back then and before, people just seemed to care more.They cared more about the Mom & Pop businesses,community,history and about each other etc..It is evident that does not apply so much today for many and hasn’t for quite some time. Which is sad in it self. Funny…back in the 70’s into the early 80’s it was Almonte that was dead,barren like and seemed non existent and Carleton Place was always booming & bustling.Now sadly, its the other way around.Good for Almonte! but sad for Carleton Place. Maybe the town council or whomever can take or get some pointers from those in charge of Almonte or even Perth for that matter, to see how they are doing it. They both have allowed for some growth/progress on the outskirts/edges of their towns but without sacrificing their centre core(s) etc..,.. and not near as much as Carleton Place did.
Thank you so much for all this history… If you ever have a chance… Id like to hear more about the Golden Nugget
Almonte has a young fresh presence on the main street. Owners and artisans are stepping up and having a voice. CP needs this. Landlords excuse me…Slum lords need to realize the potential growth and revitalization the downtown can have if the leadership in town can work for these landlords. I agree with you that old school sales man ship is needed but the mayor and it’s councillors need to reach out to the property owners and work to find merchants that are not selling second hand…
We have a town with a beautiful landscape with the Mississippi River and landmarks like the Canoe club. We need take advantage of what we have and build upon that.
Does the Mayor still own property on main street and is vacant? and for how long? Just curious.
I do believe he still has the old diner next to the RBC that has been papered up for 15 years plus the building on the other side of the bridge that Oliver and Olivia were in.. but not sure exactly what he owns.Sp dont quote me.. I have writing over and over for months that it can be done…”fresh young presence” something new.. OUT OF THE BOX and not the same old tired stuff.
There is a reason as to why Almonte has become successful in the downtown. There is a group of business owners that banded together to create events and promotions to draw people into the town. Carleton Place does not have that. We have the BIA that puts on the same events from year to year.
-Free Comic book day which does nothing for the businesses on the Main Street. The street fills up with families looking for free stuff. They would never otherwise shop in the stores they are only there for the comics.
– Bridge St Bazaar. A great idea but who wants to come out when basicly the street is just filled up with at home Vendors such as Tupperware, Scentsy, Avon , It Wraps , etc. People want to see crafts people and merchants selling their wares.
– Lambsdowne Festival. Same thing at home Vendors and a ton of people with a bbq selling the same food.
You see the same people always out rarely a new face. Every event has free stuff for children to try and draw people to the events. Why must it always be stuff for kids to get people to come? There are tons of new people relocating in town on a daily basis. Advertising needs to be redirected to the people that don’t know what’s here. Not the ones that only come out for free stuff. Sticking a poster in the window of every downtown business is doing nothing for advertising.
There has been ideas put forth to businesses on the main st to try and get people downtown but often they are met with “we want to do our own thing” which is a prime example of why around Christmas time there are 3 different nights where there are Christmas open houses and shopping events and only a few businesses participating each time.
I know a few business owners that have some really great ideas to try and draw people into the downtown but it’s hard when you are running a business to put together a whole event on your own when no ones else wishes to participate.
Thank you. Something has to be done.. it begins and ends with us all.
Carleton Place needs to encourage small businesses and artisan businesses to take up residence on the main street, which right now is mainly offices. Who wants to walk the main street when there are so few stores? We need new attractions to bring tourists to our town. In years past, the Arena hosted a dog show. The town certainly scuttled this enterprise when it decided to make the charity show-giving club foot the bill to put in more electricity to the arena — something the club couldn’t afford — so the show moved elsewhere, taking all of the potential sales, meals eaten and motel rentals with it. Other small towns seem to get by on being havens for artists and artisans. Why can’t we show the same intuition and flare?
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Oh Janis.. I could go on an on like this like you and it would be so easy to begin something. but no one can work together,.. see y new rant LOl
I have had a headache for a day from hearing complaints. Thank you for allowing me to write and being my aspirin..
The picture everyone loves to hate. Thanks Patrick M. Doyle
Do we Really Have to Live in Generica?