Main Street will come alive this afternoon and evening with the opening of the 2011 American National Bank Farmers Market in downtown Grand Junction, an event that will take place each Thursday until Sept. 15. Equally important, the event will mark the opening of the revamped eastern section of Main Street. The western portion was done last year.
For two long winters, businesses on Main Street held on during construction projects that tore up the road and sidewalk in front of their stores and restaurants and made customer access difficult.
But what they have now — something shared by all residents of the Grand Valley and multitudes of visitors each year — is an attractive, inviting Main Street business corridor that is the envy of countless communities around the country.
For instance, a group looking at ways to revitalize downtown Topeka, Kan. — the capital of that state, no less — has discussed Grand Junction’s Main Street as a model for how to make downtown more attractive.
Too many cities and towns around the country were caught off guard by the strip malls and big-box stores that began to sprout along major roadways on the outskirts of towns in the 1950s and 1960s, and left downtown areas reeling.
As history columnist Kathy Jordan detailed in her Daily Sentinel column last Friday, that didn’t happen in Grand Junction because a handful of people more than half a century ago realized what was beginning to occur, and organized Operation Foresight to change the appearance and atmosphere of Main Street. The straight road became a serpentine street, with limited parking and abundant amenities for pedestrians. Planters, trees and other measures made it more welcoming than the thoroughfare of mostly concrete and asphalt that had previously existed.
Later, Art on the Corner would add more unique features to the area. In recent years, new attractions such as concerts, art festivals, Farmers Market and more have found homes on Main Street.
The reconstruction of the past two years built on those 1960s efforts, keeping the trees, planters and winding street, but adding more amenities for visitors. While the city paid to replace water and sewer lines along Main Street, most of the cost has been borne by the Downtown Development Authority, whose funds come from taxes paid by property owners in the district.
So go to Farmers Market today or to one of the multitude of other events that will occur on Main Street over the summer. Or visit businesses along the shaded sidewalks. But as you do so, be thankful that Grand Junction didn’t abandon its downtown half a century ago, as so many communities did. And celebrate the fact that the same commitment remains today.