When I was a kid in 1960s small-town Nova Scotia, going “uptown” was a big deal. Oh, the wonders to be seen at Woolworth’s, the hardware store and the Metropolitan store in those simpler times!
Tanks full of innocent goldfish, waiting to be bagged up and taken home to a guaranteed short life; the lunch counters with their super-salty gravy-soaked french-fries, milkshakes, and cherry cokes. And, of course the toys. We had so few in those days, making do with our dolls and our imaginations – my sister and I were never hard-pressed to find something fun to do. We played endless games of store, library, school, and house. We didn’t even have TV at home until the middle of elementary school, but we always had library books. I figure that’s a big part of why I grew up to become a writer.
In those days, the main street (Prince and Inglis (pictured above, circa 1965) in my hometown of Truro) was the beating heart of the town. The same families owned the same shops for decades, and it was all so familiar, but exciting at the same time since we didn’t consume stuff so voraciously then as we do today. Most things we did buy we kept for a long time, and they were produced in North America – how that has changed! As I found out when busy with my Masks for the Food Banks project when I couldn’t find elastic produced anywhere in Canada.
I’ve been spending some time in Kingston, Ontario, lately, visiting my daughter (who’s a grade one teacher) and husband (and their new puppy, Winnie!) and I was sad to see so many empty storefronts on Kingston’s busy main street, Princess. University towns and cities are missing the annual September in-flow of students. Driving through other small towns in southern Ontario, the economic effects of this pandemic are bleakly visible in the “For Lease” signs in empty shop windows.
Everybody I talk to mentions how little they’ve been spending during Covid times (and a lot of the spending people are doing is online, judging by the fleets of UPS and FedEx trucks everywhere), and I’m starting to wonder if that’ll become the new reality, permanently. Lots of people are still cautious about venturing into stores or restaurants, even though we all know we should be supporting local as much as possible in these hard times. Nobody wants to get sick, so we continue to “stay the blazes home,” as instructed by Premier Stephen McNeil in the pandemic’s early days.
Small business owners pour their hearts and souls into their enterprises, but they can only stay afloat for so long with mortgage/rent payments looming and diminishing revenue. Meanwhile, the big-box stores seem to be doing just fine, one-stop shopping and all that. I’ve driven past the Costco in Kingston several times, and there are always dozens of people lined up to get inside.
How’s your Main Street looking seven months into this pandemic? I’m busy writing and drawing (thanks for the grant, Arts Nova Scotia!) and looking for the silver lining, as we prepare to nestle in for a long, lonely winter…