Eighty-eight year old Louise Dean of Mercer County is handed a photograph of Harrodsburg’s Main Street from the 1930s. She embraces the snapshot as if it were a picture of a lost loved one and, after a brief pause, the memories shoot forth like water through a broken dam.
“That’s it, all right,” says Dean. “And boy, was that the place to be.”
Dean explains that no matter what type of traffic patterns, or parking regulations they attempted, it was always congested with automobiles. “The problem was Main Street wasn’t build with cars in mind,” says Dean. “In fact I still remember going there in horse and buggy.”
And even then, declares Dean, it could get pretty congested.
Naturally things have changed in the last 80 years. But when it comes to Main Street U.S.A. as it pertains to Boyle, Casey, Garrard, Lincoln and Mercer counties, you might be surprised at just how much has, and hasn’t, changed since the days when “horse power” meant real horses.
The building that houses Beehive Gifts at 114 S. Main Street in Harrodsburg has stood since before Abraham Lincoln took office in Washington D.C. But, during a recent visit, the calendar on the wall read Dec. 24, 2010. The days of Main Street being the center of the commercial universe for small town America are long gone, but the same hope of entrepreneurship thrives.
“People are always telling me how much they love Main Street,” said Shirley Sprague, who, along with her husband Jim, owns Beehive Gifts in Harrodsburg. “However, not everyone who tells me that always shops here on Main Street and that’s a little disappointing.”
Sprague admits business is down over the last 10 years, and when she says “down,” she means it.
“Since the years 2000 and 2001, I’d say sales have been cut in half,” said Sprague, noting this year’s sales are off 15 percent from just last year.
But its not all doom and gloom as the Spragues consider themselves among the lucky ones. Jim is a retired teacher from Boyle County, and Shirley is a retired director for a data center in Lexington. Unlike some, at least they have a pension to rely on.
“You turn on the TV and some reporter tries to tell us how business is up as of late and how Christmas Eve is supposed to be the best shopping day of the year,” she said.
While that might be the case with some stores in the bigger cities, according to Sprague, it’s certainly not the case in this particular shop of Main Street. She also believes the big numbers touted by the talking heads could simply be a case of not necessarily false, but misdirected optimism.
“I don’t believe them when they say things are better now. But, Jim and I do believe they will get better eventually.”
Despite the downturn in business, the Spragues are in it for the long haul.
“We happen to own this building which was built in 1860,” said Shirley Sprague. “And, like other store owners on Main Street we are members of the Downtown Business Association.”
According to its members, the association believes more competition, at least on Main Street itself, is one way to get more folks shopping on Main Street.
“The group also realizes the historic significance of Main Street and takes steps to not only preserve the beauty of this street but make little improvements whenever we can,” she said.
This can take the form of flowers in the springtime and various decorations in the winter. It’s the little details that distinguish the shops from their big retail counterparts.
Just then, Harrodsburg residents Tim Burrows and Chuck Simmons entered Beehive Gifts.
“I’ve been to four different places trying to find this certain candle that my wife is crazy about,” said Burrows.