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Downtowns are the hearts of our communities

Pat ConveryWe’ve all done it.

We sit in pajamas at the computer, clicking through different websites to make a purchase online.

It’s a convenience that I am quick to say I’ve used. It’s a part of our new digital world that is not going away, and with our busy lifestyles, it can often save us precious time.

But if we stay in those pajamas (metaphorically or otherwise) and never look outside the digital world for the goods we need, we miss something valuable: our community, and the opportunity to strengthen the places we value by shopping at independent, local retailers.

I’m speaking specifically of downtowns. We are blessed in Livingston County with vibrant downtowns that define our communities and where we live: Howell, Brighton, Pinckney, Fowlerville.

A few years ago, I helped with a promotional video for Howell’s downtown. It was a beautiful day, and downtown was jumping. Folks were eating ice cream, heading to a downtown concert, dining outside, sitting on the courthouse lawn. Interviewing them, we asked what they liked about downtown.

• They loved the opportunity to see others, run into acquaintances, and gather with friends and family.

• They enjoyed the shops and restaurants. Downtown is a distinctive place, with unique retail and dining opportunities you can’t find anywhere else.

• People-watching was high on the list.

• They mentioned they felt part of the community when downtown, part of “where they lived.”

• Festivals and events ranked high, from the weekly Farmers’ Market to the big events like the Melon Festival and the Fantasy of Lights.

• They loved the “look” of downtown: the beautiful buildings, the store windows, the seating. Our downtowns create a sense of place.

• They were proud of “their” downtown and came to it often.

• Ironically, many of those we interviewed didn’t live in the city of Howell but identified themselves as Howell residents. Downtown is theirs.

If downtown is the heart of a community, the retailers, restaurateurs and attractions are its lifeblood. Without them, there is no downtown, just empty buildings staring blankly.

And the beautiful buildings? The historic architecture? In the case of Howell’s downtown, it wasn’t too many years ago that those buildings were neglected, the architecture covered up. Local retailers, restaurant owners and and building owners invested their money and sweat equity to make Howell’s one of the most dazzling small downtowns in Michigan, and one of the few listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

If you love your downtown — wherever it is — make it a goal to spend a portion of your disposable income there. You won’t be disappointed by the ambiance, personal service, and unique products and services.

And when you visit downtown (how about today for lunch?), realize the dollars spent by shoppers and diners like you are keeping the heart of your community beating strong.

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