The Rebirth of Main Street

ONCE THE EPICENTER OF RETAIL, America’s malls are struggling: “An Ode to Shopping Malls — farewell, pleasure palaces of days past,” The New York Times reported. “A historical anachronism,” the New Yorker declared. “The culture that spawned satire like Mallrats seems increasingly dated, ever cartoonish,” The Guardian concluded.

Our historic downtowns across America — including “mom and pop” stores, restaurants, coffee houses, historic hotels, B&Bs, tasting rooms and taprooms — are making a comeback, however. “An unexpected byproduct of the renaissance of America’s midsize cities has been the emergence of lovely little towns that have undergone appealing makeovers” for shopping, dining, arts and culture, and weekend excursions, as Travel & Leisure recently reported.

Even online giant Amazon.com is going downtown, seeking to recreate a boutique, brick-and-mortar retailing experience. The store — called Amazon 4-Star — opened in New York’s SoHo neighborhood this fall, and another is planned for Fourth St. in downtown Berkeley, among other locations.

Amazon 4-Star offers products that are “trending” in particular neighbor- hoods, including four-star rated toys, kitchen gadgets, electronics, and its own products such as Echo, Fire and Ring. The store is a modern-day version of the mercantile stores that have dotted Main Street USA since F. W. Woolworth in the late 1800s.

Like other regions, our historic downtowns also are experiencing a rebirth — from Lincoln and Loomis in the valley, to Grass Valley, Auburn and Nevada City in the foothills and Truckee in the High Sierra.

They are attracting new investors, who are renovating the historic National Hotel in Nevada City; The Holbrooke and Nevada County Bank Building in Grass Valley; and developing the Truckee Railyard.

Grass Valley, Nevada City and Truckee are among 14 of the state’s Cultural Districts—areas with a high concentration of cultural resources and activities. Loomis and Lincoln have new “streetscapes” that preserve the past and prepare the towns for a new future.

The rebirth of our region’s downtowns is drawing national attention. In August, Nevada City was named one of the 30 most beautiful Main Streets across America by Architectural Digest. “Nevada City has largely retained the look of its earliest days, preserving many old structures along and around Broad Street,” the magazine wrote.

In October, Nevada City-Grass Valley also was named one of the 15 most “perfect road trips” within driving distance of San Francisco, according to Thrillist. It pointed to the Empire Mine, the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Rail Museum, the National Hotel, Treats, and Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Co., among other destinations.

Our fall issue will highlight the rebirth of our historic downtowns, highlighting shopping and dining experiences, the arts and culture scene, wine and beer tasting rooms, and some of the “rainmakers” who are helping to make it happen.

(Photo: Reuben Cohn)

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