November 30, 2006

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Concord Publisher's Note: A little holiday sentiment
By Dan Szczesny

I sometimes get sentimental when I watch old movies. And sometimes, this leads me to think of Midnight Merriment, downtown Concord’s big shopping event of the holiday season.

Let me explain: You know how in movies up until the mid-1950s or so, you always see people heading downtown to shop? Sometimes they walk, sometimes they take a bus. Sometimes they even take a train, for heaven’s sake!

This was all accepted practice in the era when business of all types was conducted in the center of communities large and small, just as it had been for centuries, and just as it continues to be in most parts of the world.

And it was just prior to the rise of that uniquely American contribution to retailing, suburban sprawl. This was in the 1960s, when shiny new shopping centers began to be built far outside of congested downtowns. They offered a new and easier way to shop for time-pressed suburbanites, plus convenient (and free!) parking for our ever-growing number of automobiles. What wasn’t to like?

There’s nothing wrong with suburban shopping centers themselves. However, a bunch of unrelated and disconnected shopping centers (as seen today in almost any American city— for example, in Concord on Loudon Road) do not add up to anything like the kind of community that a traditional downtown environment provides.

When I was a kid growing up in Buffalo, N.Y., I got to see the last gasp of my old working-class neighborhood’s traditional culture. For generations, people had shopped and done business within walking distance of their apartments or modest homes. You knew the merchants and they knew you.

I know this sounds sentimental, but it was the basis for a stable and close-knit community that provided a high quality of life. Think of it. Money stayed in the area. The success of a local business was, in a way, everyone’s success.

But by the time I was coming of age, all that was breaking down. People were moving to new suburban neighborhoods. My old family neighborhood entered a long decline from which it still hasn’t emerged. I went home for Thanksgiving this year, and it’s still pretty grim.

In Concord, however, the downtown continues to remain relatively intact. It serves as an anchor that gives the city character and sense of place that it otherwise wouldn’t have.

Which brings us to Midnight Merriment. On Friday, Dec. 1, starting at 5 p.m., many of Concord’s city merchants will ring in the season with an evening-long celebration of old-time traditional downtown shopping and events.

If you’d like to experience the warm glow of downtown shopping, check it out. Otherwise, your options are limited to watching It’s a Wonderful Life for the umpteenth time to see the citizens of Bedford Falls enjoy their traditional downtown.

I prefer the real thing, so I hope you’ll join me at this year’s Midnight Merriment!