Downtown belongs to all of us

   "Downtown" is the one place that belongs to everyone without favoring North, South, East or West Elizabethton. "Downtown" is the heart of Elizabethton, the image we project to the entire state and to every visitor. It reflects our vitality as a community and should be a source of pride. Downtown is not just Elk Avenue and retail, but rather the broader geographic areas of commerce, banking and government as well as the adjacent residential areas of Hattie Avenue and Main Street.
   Downtown also includes our history, from Alfred Moore Carter's House, the old Duffield School, the Covered Bridge, and many other historic structures to the Carter County Courthouse. Downtown is more than just a place. It is the face of Elizabethton, and often the only image of Carter County that visitors have of our community.
   All across the country, community leaders are leading efforts to revitalize the core areas of cities, known as the downtown, because they recognize the economic realities of losing the heart of the city to blight and decay. The tax base diminishes, crime increases, investment stops, jobs are lost and what is left is a population of older, poorer people who cannot afford the rising taxes. Often the demand for streets, sewers, water and other services at the city's fringe pumps money away from the downtown, accelerating the decline.
   Not so in Elizabethton. The downtown is a thriving business place. It's not the town it used to be, but that's okay. It's a town that has survived; a town that has opened its arms to new and more specialized businesses, such as the antique shops, which draw people from both out-of-town, and out-of-state.
   Elizabethton is a town of very diversified businesses. Take a walk downtown and these are some of the things you will find -- churches, a wedding chapel, fine things as well as antiques, fine clothing as well as consignment shops, an antique lamp repair shop, a telephone repair store, watch repair, shoe repair, hobby and craft shops, baseball cards, athletic jerseys, candles, office supplies, photography and portrait studios, floral shops, gift shops, movie rentals, electronics, cell phone stores, optometrists, pharmacists, lawyers, insurance, financial advisors, architects, freshly roasted and freshly brewed coffee, eateries, beauty shops, barber shops, musical instruments, picture framing, art galleries and art supplies, furniture, an upholstery shop, hardware, real estate firms, a coal business, which has a front porch view of town, tasty chicken salad croissants, spaghetti, gravy and biscuits and home-cooked meals at the Southern Cafe, a smile that reaches across town from David Pinckard at David-Lynn, a glimpse of the past at Barnes-Boring Hardware, popcorn at the bank, a movie at the Bonnie Kate, and the list goes on and on.
   In fact, there are at least 150 stores located in the downtown business district in an area that stretches down Elk Avenue from the monument to Lynn Avenue, including E and F Streets and the side streets of Pine, Sycamore and Main.
   We are a unique and beautiful town. There are not many towns that are located at the foot of a mountain, have a river that flows through it, a Covered Bridge, a monument in the town square, nor a park to picnic in. But Elizabethton has all these and much more. Part of the town is located in a historic district that is on the National Register of Historic Places and has been developed into a self-directed downtown walking trail.
   The downtown is a most exciting place. It also is a town that has a low crime rate, and a town where people feel safe and comfortable and can walk the streets, even at night, without fear.
   The downtown of Elizabethton continues to be healthy -- it is a mixture of old and new. It is still a fun place to go to, and still a place that we can take pride in.
   There are some things about small towns that malls and shopping centers can't provide -- the personalized service, the sense of community ownership, where local government is, and where you can still have a Christmas parade every year.
   Shopping centers and malls exist in order to serve mercantile functions. The downtown serves a wide array of functions: selling goods is but one. There are many fundamental differences.
   If you haven't done so, take a walk downtown one day this week and rediscover it. It belongs to all of us, even you.