What’s so great about downtown?

Once upon a time, there were no malls, no super Wal-Marts, no online shopping. If you wanted to buy or sell, or see a doctor, or borrow a library book, you headed to the center of the community where you lived. In other words, you headed downtown.

Once upon a time, there were no malls, no super Wal-Marts, no online shopping.

If you wanted to buy or sell, or see a doctor, or borrow a library book, you headed to the center of the community where you lived.

In other words, you headed downtown.

For centuries, no matter where you were on the planet, downtowns were the centers for goods and services, public and private. They were the magnet by which newcomers got to know their adopted communities.

A vibrant downtown went a long way in assuring transplants that they didn’t make a mistake.

Churches planted themselves downtown, their soaring buildings adding beauty and grandeur.

As the culture and economy changed, the value of having a viable downtown became less important, and many were allowed to languish, even die.

The good news is, that’s no longer the case, at least in Stark County, where efforts to restore downtown can be found in each of the county’s largest cities.

In Canton, the push is on to reestablish downtown communities through the restoration of historic buildings such as the Onesto Hotel, the Hercules plant and the former Bliss Tower and a number of existing apartment buildings that have been rescued from blight.

Canton has the added benefit of a thriving local artists’ community and locally owned coffee shops and restaurants.

In Massillon, the pride is evident in its state-of-the-art Massillon Museum, which has earned national acclaim and recognition for its innovations and programming. You can see residents’ love of their city in the locally owned businesses that occupy Lincoln Way W, in the beautiful and historic Massillon Public Library, the Lions Lincoln Theatre and in the string of restaurants which have sprouted east of the viaduct.

In Alliance, local artists, musicians and antiques retailers are working hard to transform the heart of downtown into a center for the arts.

Why so much effort? Because people are beginning to understand and appreciate the intrinsic value of a healthy downtown.

Because everything is connected. A healthy downtown can have a positive effect on adjoining neighborhoods, prompting the people in them to take more pride in their own properties.

Plus, downtowns have an energy you simply can’t replicate in a suburban strip mall because they draw people from all walks of life.

From Cleveland to Columbus, downtown has become the place to be.

The best downtowns make a deliberate choice to preserve their history when possible, all while embracing new ideas and approaches to redevelopment and growth.

Currently, downtowns are experiencing a youth movement, and as a result, they also draw the kind of risk-takers you want: Those who venture out and launch their own businesses.

Plus, downtowns underscore the most American of ideas: The feeling that anything is possible if you’re willing to take the chance and put in the effort.