Sixty years ago, just about every town in America, small and large, had a distinctive Main Street characterized by department stores, Mom and Pop shops, movie theaters, soda fountains, and general stores like Five and Dimes. The Main Street of today may look a little different than that of years past, and even though towns across America have seen a decline in business overall due to the rise of shopping malls, which then gave way to online shopping, Main streets, for the time being, are here to stay.
According to Harrisonburg, Virginia resident Eddie Bumbaugh, “During the decades of the 1970s to 1990s, the downtown district underwent significant deterioration, vacancies, and economic challenges, as was the case with many communities around the country.” There has been a concerted effort, over the last decade, however, to restore deteriorating Main Streets to their former glory. As shopping malls shut their doors, becoming massive concrete ghost towns, we are seeing a return to traditional values with a resurgence in Main Streets across the nation.
Here are just a few of the most charming Main Streets in America, compiled from Travel & Leisure, Fodor’s Travel, and the Great American Main Street Awards. This summer, if you’re looking for something to do, why not drive to your nearest Main Street, or one of the ones on this list if you’re up for a road trip, and take a leisurely stroll down the idyllic streets lined with boutique shops and family-owned restaurants? You could easily spend a whole day in one of these towns if you slow down and take the time to savor their distinctive charm.
1. Ann Arbor, Michigan
Much of Ann Arbor’s downtown activity is due to its being a college town, with long-term residents sharing the streets with University of Michigan students who make up more than a third of the population. Being a college town serves Ann Arbor well, as its breweries, art galleries, and retail shops never lack for business.
2. Saratoga Springs, New York
In stark contrast to the clogged, overcrowded streets of New York City, closed in by towering skyscrapers, Saratoga Springs offers a welcoming retreat for New Yorkers. Its main thoroughfare, Broadway Avenue, is the quintessential image of a Main Street, lined with small businesses, flowerbeds, benches, and trees strung with twinkling lights.
3. York, Pennsylvania
You may be surprised to find a small town in central, PA on a list of the greatest Main Streets in America, but York has come a long way in its efforts to revitalize its downtown since its last department store closed in 1978 and the town fell into neglect. Now, York hosts a monthly First Friday where stores and restaurants stay open late, with special events and discounts, to attract visitors. Nearly all of the late Victorian and Classical Revival style historic buildings have been restored.
4. Galena, Illinois
Chicago may be the star attraction in Illinois, but just three hours outside the metropolis, Galena provides a welcoming return to the Main Streets of years past. The downtown businesses are housed in brick mid-19th century storefronts and include antique shops, restaurants, boutiques, galleries, and even an old-fashioned ice cream parlour with more than 40 flavors to choose from. A trolley departing from Main Street and taking riders out to local wineries completes this charming small town.
5. Dahlonega, Georgia
Dahlonega is one of the Great American Main Street Awards three 2016 winners. Located just 65 miles north of Atlanta, this town’s Main Street won for its walkable downtown, gourmet restaurants, unique shops, and one-of-a-kind Southern hospitality. Although the town has a population of just 6,000, more than a million people visit Dahlonega each year.