Decline of a Downtown

Editor's Note: This is Part I of a two part series looking at the decline of small town America, with focus on the Jamesburg area. Next month the Jamesburg Network will make an unprecedented move, reporting on the Borough of Helmetta and the impending loss of their historic snuff mill, upon which their community was built and based.

      In today's fast paced and commercialized world, people want things as quickly as possible. We want things now or we will go somewhere else to get it. Decisions must be made right away, without much time to think. The "fast food world" serves us what we want right away. The world has been taught not to wait and have everything at their fingertips, from products to information. And did I mention cheap? Fast and cheap is the way the world works today. If you cannot get something for a bargain, it is not worth it. Discount superstores such as Wal-Mart and Target have replaced the five and dimes which were once ever so popular for a good deal and a good time. Decades have passed since then and today we live in a completely consumer based society wanting items quick, cheap, and often in bulk.

Downtown Jamesburg of Yesteryear       Can you imagine a time when the world was not like that? Well, there once was a time when you could walk to your local downtown area and go shopping for a couple hours browsing the many storefronts. Imagine a small pharmacy, shoemaker, music store, meat market, florist, small grocery store, bakery, bank, barber, dress store, jewelry store, restaurant, movie theater and much more all in a couple blocks! Impossible you say? Who would want to do that? What about just going to the mall? Well, what if your local downtown was the closest and only mall? Not efficient enough you say? Welcome to Jamesburg, New Jersey. For at least 100 years, from the 1850s to the early 1960s, Jamesburg had all of these storefronts and many more along both East and West Railroad Avenue. Jamesburg was a true downtown, complete with two train stations and a hotel.

      Think about Jamesburg today. Sure, there is still a bakery, pharmacy, jewelry store, barber, and some restaurants. There is now even a dollar store, numerous lawyers, a couple real estate agencies, pizza shops, and even a Dunkin' Donuts, Subway, and CVS Pharmacy! Despite having all this today, someone cannot go to Jamesburg for the day and do all their shopping for the week. A trip to the local Wal-Mart, Target, Stop & Shop, or mall is still in order for you to get everything. The decline of a downtown that was once the center of everyday life is fading across the country, not just in Jamesburg. As stated earlier, we are now a global and commercialized economy, looking to get the most for our buck. But is it worth it? Many have posed that question and some have answered...ask a local merchant and he will say that going to his shop is where you will get friendly and personalized service from the moment you walk in until you leave. "A place where everybody knows your name" is another cliché of small downtown areas which is actually true. Local merchants do learn your face, name, and your story, if you so desire to share. This special charm cannot be felt in many places today. Most people are concerned about getting in and out in the fastest amount of time possible. Yet, taking those extra couple minutes may bring a smile to your face, making your trip worthwhile. On the other hand, ask a teenager and she will say that going into downtown Jamesburg is a waste of time. There are no pop culture stores such as Old Navy, Abercrombie and Fitch, or even a Payless shoe store! Differing views, different generations. The generations of today have been molded into being efficient and quick, never to waste a precious moment. While diligent, sometimes being molded into this fashion is not always the best answer, although it may seem like it at the time. Everyone needs to take a step back and experience a different lifestyle, if only for a short time. Learn what it was like to live in the past, some may actually enjoy it and embrace it.

Downtown Jamesburg Today       Therefore, I urge everyone to slow down and take a moment to pause and reflect. Take a Saturday morning that is not too busy and drive to Jamesburg. Park your car along East or West Railroad Avenue and get walking! Visit the stores, say "Hi!", mingle with the employees, and do some shopping. It may be the best hour or two you have spent in a while. Learn to appreciate that there are still people who take the time to make sure you get the best quality products and personalized service at a fair price. Do not contribute to the decline of downtowns. Rather, embrace the nostalgic feeling and make a promise to our merchants. Promise them that their careers are not fruitless and they are appreciated for all the hard work and devotion they have put forth in continuing to make Hometown, USA a reality.

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