Remembering Main Street
An American Album
by Pat Ross, Viking, 230 pages, $29.95 . CODE: PEN-5
It is a staple of the evening news that the American small town and its classic main street are vanishing, victims of population shifts, malls, and superstores. The travel writer Pat Ross has chosen to study ten places where Main Street still thrives. She begins by revisiting her own hometown of Chestertown, Maryland. Now as ever, activity stops for each sailboat that passes through the drawbridge there, and Stam’s drugstore still serves a superior milkshake. In Great Barrington, Massachusetts, Ken Weeks’s father, Robert, started Weeks’s Barber Shop in 1905 and brought his son into the business in 1940; Ken Weeks still won’t allow a phone in the place. In Sheridan, Wyoming, Ross met Dan George, owner of Dan’s Western Wear, who could remember when his Main Street contained signs reading, NO INDIANS ALLOWED . Despite this, George told Ross, “Sheridan hasn’t changed that much.”
The towns range in population from fifteen hundred to fifteen thousand. Ross credits their endurance partly to signage restrictions and strong chambers of commerce, but those seem to be after-the-fact explanations. Read this as a series of photo-essay visits to some enviable American places, if not as a recipe for reviving others.