In The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America, wonderful humor/travel writer Bill Bryson expresses his disappointment with his difficulty finding healthy, handsome small American towns. He does this in a witty and often downright hilarious way (e.g. describing his terrified scramble across a busy mall parking lot just to get to the only restaurants--of the chain variety--left in a town), but beneath the humor I can feel his palpable dejection about his elusive struggle to find the ideal, idyllic small American town.
Like Bryson, I'm sadly used to seeing small town Main Streets suffering from the siege upon them by big box retailers on their periphery, so imagine my pleasant surprise--and downright giddiness--when I walked about a village downtown in my region that is not only surviving, but thriving.
Medina, New York: a village in rural Orleans County on the Lake Ontario plains, between Rochester and Buffalo, and obscure and even unknown to even many western New Yorkers. This photogenic Erie Canal village hosted the Landmark Society's annual preservation conference on May 2.
What struck me immediately about Medina (population 6,415)and gave me hope for other older small towns in Western New York and beyond--is the volume and variety of independent goods and service businesses open on its core streets. Businesses downtown include Rosenkrans Pharmacy and Gift Shop; Garlock Office Products; Lockport Optical; Main Street TV and Appliance; The Book Shoppe; Hahn Hardware; Donna Bushover Insurance; Baughn's Shoes; Blissett Bridal and Clothing; Shirt Factory Café; The Red Cross; The Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy; Travel Horizons; Case-Nic Cookies ("Cookies Made the Way Grandma Used to Make `Em!"); and more. Mayor Adam Tabelski pointed out proudly at the conference that there are only three ground-floor commercial vacancies presently on the main streets of the Village.
Although beautiful and functional now, the Village of Medina does not rest on its significant laurels. Village government (led by Mayor Tabelski, who might be a few years over thirty, and a deputy mayor of the same recent vintage who is also restoring the Newell Shirt Factory downtown into what will be a stunning, stellar mixed-use building) is prioritizing work such as downtown façade improvements, and even a comprehensive study investigating the pros and cons of consolidation with the two towns that the Village straddles.
The previous paragraph starts to answer the "how did they do it?" question. There surely are many more policy, process, and politics explanations for Medina's main street prosperity. You owe it to yourself to walk the streets of Medina and talk to proud residents and the proprietors of the downtown businesses. Call on Deputy Mayor Andrew Meier at the Newell Shirt Company building, site of the Shirt Factory Café: he'll tell you why he's high on Medina, why and how he's investing in the renovation of the Shirt Company building, and why exactly downtown Medina has become a great place to inform and inspire your own work to restore the beauty and vitality of our small communities.
Check these links:
Village of Medina
Medina, New York
R.H. Newell Building and Shirt Factory
Orleans County, New York
posted by Evan Lowenstein
Evan is Coordinator of RochesterCityLiving.com at the Landmark Society.