“The downtown.” For smaller communities, this phrase conjures up fond memories of nightly strolls and community diners, of dropped ice cream cones and first kisses. It’s the place where couples come to hold hands and take walks; it’s the place where people bring their pets; it’s the beating and breathing heart of a community, its core. It’s the place where people go when when the rest of the town seems inert. The “downtown” encapsulates the flavor of a community, and the community in turn flocks to the downtown for meals, gatherings and cups of coffee.
I would liken the “downtown” area to the “profile picture” of a community. When people think Chagrin Falls, they think of the Popcorn Shop, they think of Yours Truly, they think of the waterfalls themselves—all vital components of its downtown. When people think Hudson, they think of its two blocks of stores that simply ooze homeyness. When people think Coventry Village, they think Coventry Road. When people think Solon, they think... Chipotle?
It’s true. As a student, the only times that I see the exotic lettermen jackets (aka from Mentor and Kenston) that indicate a commute to our city is in the lines of Chipotle. The residents of our town, from football players to Science Olympiad members, grandparents to children, flock to Chipotle for nourishment. And Chipotle, unlike many of our other restaurants, is always full. You could say it’s like our unofficial community center—and that’s my problem.
For a city that is apparently the 3rd best place to live in the US (according to Money Magazine), having your best local draw be a burrito joint is a bit of a letdown. Where’s our local culture? Where’s our Popcorn Shop? Why does our downtown have to be a bleak strip of empty lots and chain stores? I think we deserve better.
Now, I’m not ignorant. I’ve lived in this city for the better part of ten years, and I know that we have some bright spots. Mitchell’s, one could argue, is a great local fixture. Yes, I agree. Still—really? An ice cream shop, however delicious, cannot singlehandedly salvage a downtown from desolation. Even the one-two punch of Chipotle and Mitchell’s is, quite simply, weak.
It’s a shame that for a city with so many great qualities, we’re missing the one that means the most. It’s like having Miss Universe with an eyebrow shaved off. It’s like having a chocolate mousse with a hair in it. It’s like having the greatest job applicant in the world making his Facebook profile picture one of him doing a keg stand naked. It’s just not right.
Maybe the city budget is too tight to develop downtown more. Maybe there’s not enough local interest in shopping in downtown. Maybe I’m just whining. If so, I’d like to change my tone to a more grateful one. Thank you, Chipotle. Thank you, Mitchell’s. Without you, we’d be in even worse shape.