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Photo: Ben Botkin|
Pam Ricke, an employee of Maple City Candy Company in Aledo, fills a bag with mint-flavored candy. The downtown business is planning an expansion that will include added retail space and a restaurant.
Photo: John Greenwood|
Downtown Aledo is learning how to live with a Wal-Mart on the other side of town. Instead of blaming the big box, they are working with it to provide goods and services that it doesn’t.
Aledo's downtown is the kind you'd see on the grainy black-and-white film of old silent movies or a Norman Rockwell print.
Two-story brick storefronts are snuggled together. Peek in one set of windows and you see greeting cards; a glance through another reveals quilts, and a third, row upon row of candies.
The waitresses at the restaurant greet most incoming customers before they have their coats off and know many patrons by name. There are polite, cheerful inquiries about the weather and the give and take that summarizes life in a small town.
This particular day, although wet and cold, there is a homey feel, a small-town feel. It's a feel that proponents of downtown Aledo try to foster in their city's center.
Townspeople say Aledo's downtown used to be the place to be for shopping, socializing and entertainment, but it's decayed since the advent of shopping malls and super-stores like Wal-Mart, which opened a store in town in the 1980s.
"The shops, I guess, they couldn't compete," said Thad Headley, who was working on his laptop and sipping coffee at a cafe. "They just slowly went away."
There was a depressed feel to the area, but since efforts to revitalize downtown began, that's changed, said Pam Myers, executive director of Aledo Main Street. The group is working to revitalize the downtown.
"There's an energy you can feel," she said.
Now, the downtown's storefronts are about 90 percent full, Ms. Myers said.
"I see us as a destination where people can come, and they don't get the cookie-cutter feel," she said. Advocates of downtown are trying to encourage businesses that give people what the big-box stores can't.
"I think we're definitely heading in the right direction," Dave McKnight, owner and the pharmacist at McKnight's drugstore, said.
Both said Wal-Mart isn't necessarily an enemy, even though things changed after the company moved in. The two can complement each other.
A Wal-Mart provides a wider selection of goods and less reason for people to leave town and spend money somewhere else, Mr. McKnight said. The community also benefits from the taxes it generates, and it draws people from other places to Aledo to spend money as well.
People go to Wal-Mart and what needs they can't fill there they bring to downtown, Ms. Myers said.
"We're probably still a little bit below where we would have been before Wal-Mart," Mr. McKnight said. "But it is picking up."
Despite the growth, the downtown probably never will have quite the same feel as it did in its prime.
People are more mobile now, and they can use the Internet to shop from home, Mr. McKnight said.
"I don't think we will ever see the downtown be what it was back in the '50s and '60s," he said.