For each downtown area I visit around the country, a plethora of different and unique stories could be told.
Stories of success, hardships, challenges, flourishing businesses, successful public art placements and financial partnerships that help the historic centers of our cities not just survive, but thrive and continue to become the social, shopping and cultural hubs of our communities.
I have seen Detroit’s downtown renewal. Oklahoma City’s exceptional districts. Des Moines’ nightlife. And many Main Street communities here in Missouri, most recently visiting Cape Girardeau to see a downtown I hadn’t been through in nearly 25 years.
The food, energy and activities in Old Town Cape didn’t disappoint, either — a nod to the continued dedicated and defined work of its downtown organization.
Last week, I found myself in Maryland. Not by accident, mind you. I went to visit the youngest Beaudoin brother, Stephen, who calls Hagerstown his home and spends seemingly every waking minute thinking of how to better the arts and culture community as well as the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, of which he is the executive director.
For five days, I got a flavor (and plenty of softshell crab) for the downtown areas of Mt. Airy, Hagerstown, Ellicott City and Frederick, Maryland, Shepherdstown, W.V., Washington, D.C. and Arlington, Va.
My younger brother is quite the tour guide, deftly balancing wanting me to see a dozen zip codes in a few days with understanding that I thoroughly enjoy taking in the sights and sounds of a downtown.
Although not far from one another, each Maryland downtown had a unique and distinct personality, from the wildly impressive Washington County Museum of Fine Arts and Cultural Trail in Hagerstown, to the A-Z list of shopping, food, drink and other offerings in the bustling Frederick.
Frederick truly offered the complete downtown experience, with public art, outdoor concerts, visible downtown presence (I had the pleasure of meeting some of the Frederick Partnership staff) and a sense of welcoming (something I felt in every downtown we visited) that included a great chat with the former mayor of the city. And Mt. Airy’s Wednesday evening Farmers Market featured everything from local coffee to crab cakes — a quick reminder I was not in the Midwest any more.
Our final destination on the way to Baltimore’s airport on my last day was Ellicott City, an historic area whose downtown has been decimated by massive floods twice since 2016 — the last coming in May of this year.
As we walked the steep uphill incline from the offending rivers, storefront after storefront was seen boarded up, marked and, inside, far too still for a downtown of this magnitude. That morning’s front page of the Baltimore Sun even told a story of the plight of many business owners and their struggle to reopen or move on after two momentous floods wiped out their businesses.
Signs of hope abounded, though. A few store owners reverted to pop-up tents and selling their wares outside. Other businesses that dodged the raging waters were open as was a new café at the bottom of the hill.
Dinners in Arlington and Shepherdstown offered a glimpse of two vastly different areas — one full of D.C. government workers that is easily walkable. Another, a quaint downtown with a restaurant called The Press Room that I just could not pass up.
I did learn quickly, too, that D.C. requires much more time — if not days — to explore. I was able to hit the Newseum and geek out about all things media for a few hours. With displays of the actual Berlin Wall, 9/11 coverage and entire areas dedicated to the Vietnam War and Civil Rights Movement, this proved to be one stop that everyone should try and see at least once, especially given our current media climate.
It was, thankfully, an exceptional reminder of why I spent more than two decades in that business.
And overall, the trip prompted me time and again to reflect on why I enjoy downtowns and their cultures so much.
And how fortunate I am to work and live in one.
Editor's Note: John Beaudoin is a Lee's Summit resident and award winning writer and former newspaper publisher in the Lee's Summit community. Views and opinions expressed in his columns do not necessarily reflect those of Link 2 Lee's Summit, it's employees or any other guest contributors.