For decades, the City of Plattsburgh and its supporters pushed hard to return downtown to the status it once proudly held: the main commercial center of Clinton County.
It’s time to be proud of what it is instead: the main service provider of Clinton County.
When Pyramid Mall opened in 1975, first on the south side of Route 3 just beyond the city limits and then on the north side, where it still resides, shoppers were delighted to have a large, enclosed area where they could browse and buy.
But, understandably, downtown storekeepers were concerned. They foresaw that shopping habits were changing forever and they could be left behind.
For the most part, they were right. While the mall underwent many changes over the years, that sprawling structure and the nearby shopping centers continue to be the focal point of most retail activity in the community of Plattsburgh.
Some downtown stores immediately joined the parade and relocated to the mall. Others bravely stood their ground.
The dynamic Rose Larsen, who owned Larsen’s Interiors, fought not only for her own shop’s future but for other stores downtown. She thought that if they all joined hands they could resist the mall’s gains and rebuild a thriving commercial center surrounding Margaret Street.
She and others who believed in downtown pressed city government to make it easier there for shoppers by improving parking and obtaining grants to spruce up the facades. But shoppers had already gotten used to the convenience of the mall experience.
We were reminded of those developments by a piece in Monday’s Lookback, relating that, 25 years ago, the city received a $300,000 grant from the state Urban Development Corp. to refurbish storefronts downtown.
The work, it turned out, was a good enhancement to the neighborhood. The upgrades resulted in remarkable changes in the appearance of some time-worn buildings.
But it didn’t result in a surge in retail business to rival what was happening uptown.
It isn’t that no stores can survive in downtown Plattsburgh. A number of them thrive now by offering unique products. But they are mostly “destination”-type stores — places a shopper will go because it is the best, or only, place to find a specific item or service. Think of some of the stores there now, selling, individually, local wine, lingerie, sewing equipment, used clothing for young people, shoes and sporting goods. Customers will drive downtown to get quality products.
Downtown Plattsburgh is now what it should be, and what most downtowns in America are: a center for restaurants, government and private offices, apartments, cultural venues, specialty shops and other useful activity.
It needn’t be what the malls are. It has a life and character of its own, which we all should appreciate.