Where Has Mainstreet Gone?

This is a bit of memory jogging for this post.

My memory of Lisbon, North Dakota’s mainstreet as it was in its’ prime, not as it is in its’ apparent state of decay.

I grew up on the east side of Lisbon in my parents small but efficient two story home.  It wasn’t a mansion.  It held my parents and four of seven siblings.  There was actually two generations of kids in my family, so some had grown and moved on by the time I was an official member of the clan.  And, by my 18th birthday, I too had packed both my clean dress shirts, two dress trousers and a few jeans and socks to follow some education in another locale.  Unfortunately for me it ultimately meant I would never live again in Lisbon. For that I am sad.

The few times I returned to Lisbon to visit some family that still resided there or possibly a class reunion, I left with a feeling of happiness that I had been home and, at the same time, that I had witnessed the further decline of mainstreet. 

Mainstreet in Lisbon was the life of the entire community. 

The store fronts were filled with "stores"…retail stores.  People were on the sidewalks of mainstreet purchasing goods, meeting for coffee or possibly just discussing life with others they met on mainstreet.  All this means that mainstreet in Lisbon was "community".

If you are of an age and familiar with this wonderful Sheyenne Valley Community take a moment to reflect on Lisbon’s mainstreet of even 25 years ago…let alone the mainstreet of 40 years ago that I remember so well.  In your mind close your eyes and picture mainstreet back then….

The First and Last Chance greeted you as you pulled into Lisbon from the south end of town. You probably didn’t stop on your way in, but if you were going to be there for any length of time, chances ( get it?  "chances"…first and last "chance" ) were pretty good you may find yourself planted on one of the stools, or in a booth or playing a game of pool…before you left town.  The grain elevators were always noticeable and, you had to take notice to avoid the large amount of truck traffic, especially during harvest time.

There was the lumber yard on the east side of the street as you moved into the heart of Lisbon.  A drive in resturant and a butcher shop to your left along with another pub.   Move on up the road a bit and a big Ford sign cuaght your eye with cars in the showroom and parked along side the building enticing customers to stop on in. 

A full functioning creamery soon came into view on your right with trucks and delivery vans moving in and out of the back driveway.  If you had a moment you could stop in and get a cup of coffee or a soda and a roll or sandwich and mingle with the crowd in the resturant. I remember the Creamery well…I worked there a couple of summers, cutting and wrapping fresh made butter and making sherbet.  I also delivered creamery products…remember glass half pints of milk?… to the catholic school and the public school a few months one winter…starting at 5:30 in the morning.

Just across the street from the creamery, to the north, was the Farmers Union.  Here was a busy place. On the other side of mainstreet was a Mobil station, then a rooming house and auto supply store…heading north from there  was the Chrysler dealership…there was also a horse-shoe shaped motel just up from there.  Back to the east side was Cities Service and right next to it a municipal building and a fire hall and north of there the Taystee Freeze and the Texaco station.

Getting the picture here?

Let’s jump back to the west side of mainstreet and we’ll see the Red Owl Store, a photo studio, another lumber yard, Molls grocery store an appliance store and the Fairway. 

Don’t give up now….

Staying on the west side of mainstreet and continuing north from the intersection of highways 32 and 27 we pass the Anthony store, a drug store, the Fountain Inn…later the bakery, Sullivans mens store, a hardware store, a dime store, another hardware store and a drugstore and then an insurance building at the end of that block.

Whew…all this commerce in little Lisbon

Oh, there’s more.   Keep heading north good people.  As we step across the street we come across a furniture and appliance store, what once was a telephone building, a bowling alley, a liquor store, the Bootery and yet another service station.  Head north a bit more and there is a auto service shop the Ransom County Gazette a vacant lot and what was once a poultry shop.

We’re on a roll now, so let’s jump back to the east side of mainstreet back at the highway intersection and travel north from there….

okay…first it is a women’s store then another dime store followed by the Scenic Theater and what once was Straubs coffee, ice cream, soda and popcorn palace.  Next came J.C. Penny’s, Tobe’s Bar, a jewelry store, Dinty Moores and the bank.  Watch the traffic now…yes, there actually was a fair amount of traffic on Lisbon’s mainstreet back in the day…as we cross the street to the north and find another furniture store, another lady’s clothing store, what once was a coffee snack shop, Sullivan’s bar and the Chevrolet dealership.  another corner to the north and we walk past the "bus barn" and up to a once gas station-next a tire shop.

You can open your eyes now.

Nearly all of what I have listed is gone or down graded in some way…and I am sure I missed some of the retail on mainstreet…and, I didn’t even list some of the retails businesses just off mainstreet.  This is a sad picture for a town I call home.

Some say "well, small towns can’t compete with larger nearby towns (like Fargo or Valley City or Wahpeton)".  If only the answer were that simple.  If only that answer was true.  I say that because I visit numerous communities like Lisbon throughout the year and observe a totally different picture.

In ever increasing situations I witness full retail store fronts.  I witness communities working to attract new retail outlets, create festivals and events to fit the season and "compete" with retail in bigger comminities…in prices and product.  In effect these communities work toward building pride in shopping at home, in meeting for coffee ( probably cappucino now days ), just buying locally because…"it’s their town".    I witness a local government going out of their way to attract small, local outlets to fill the store fronts of mainstreet.

Over simplified?  Very likely.  Over stated?  Not at all!

Wha’t the answer?  I don’t know, I’m not that smart.  However, if I were to begin searching for an answer and formulating a plan, I think I would call on similar communities in the midwest who figured out a way to revive their main street and, thus…their home town and plead for their guidance.  They started where Lisbon is now.  And, they found a way.

Okay…I’m through with my little musing.  

Believe it or not…and it might be difficult considering the paragraphs above…I am not discouraged by what I see when I return for a visit to Lisbon.  I am saddened because deep down I know there is a man or a woman or a bunch of people who can return this wonderful community to the life it once enjoyed and the pride it once displayed on "Mainstreet".  

This is my view from the edge of town.

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About little joe

Born on the Midwest Plains...and live the same way. Enjoyed a small town upbringing and a big city career. Value small town ethics and the big city opportunity. Write from the heart while wearing a smile. and enjoy all that's around me
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