Main Street

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Main street in Budapest, Hungary (by Antal Berkes)
Main Street in Chesterton, Indiana

Main Street is the metonym for a generic street name (and often the official name) of the primary retail street of a village, town or small city in many parts of the world. It is usually a focal point for shops and retailers in the central business district, and is most often used in reference to retailing and socializing.

The term is commonly used in Scotland and the United States, and less often in Canada, Australia and Ireland. In most of the United Kingdom the common description is High Street. In Jamaica the term is Front Street. In some parts of the south west of England the equivalent used is Fore Street.

In some larger cities, there may be several Main Streets, each relating to a specific neighborhood or formerly separate city, rather than the city as a whole. In many larger U.S. cities "Main Street" is a U.S. Highway; "Main Street of America" branding was used to promote U.S. Route 66 in its heyday.

American cultural usage[edit]

A traditional Main Street; Bastrop, Texas, featuring the small shops and old-fashioned architecture typical of rural towns

In the general sense, the term "Main Street" refers to a place of traditional values.

In the 1949 movie adaptation of On The Town, the song "When You Walk Down Main Street With Me" refers to small-town values and social life.

In the North American media, "Main Street" represents the interests of everyday people and small business owners, in contrast with "Wall Street" (in the United States) or "Bay Street" (in Canada), symbolizing the interests of large national corporations.

Main Street was a popular term during the economic crises in 2008 and 2009: the proposed bailout of U.S. financial system, the 2008 presidential campaign, and debates. One widely reviewed book was Bailout: An Inside Account of How Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall Street (2012) by Neil Barofsky.

"Main Street" is part of the iconography of American life. For example, the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, the outfit that operates the PX and BX stores on military bases, chose the name "Main Street USA" for its food courts.

In small towns across the United States, Main Street is not only the major road running through town but the site of all street life, a place where townspeople hang out and watch the annual parades go by. A slang term popularized in the early 20th century, "main drag", is also used to refer to a town's main street.

Literature[edit]

Main Street, or small town life generally, was a symbol of stifling conformity drawn by the social realists from 1870 to 1930.[1] Sherwood Anderson, for example, wrote Winesburg, Ohio: A Group of Tales of Ohio Small Town Life in 1919. The best-selling 1920 novel Main Street was a critique of small town life, by the American writer Sinclair Lewis. The locale was "Gopher Prairie," presented as an 'ideal type' of the Midwestern town, while the heroine, Carol Kennicott, as the 'ideal-typical' Progressive.[2]

Walt Disney[edit]

Two Walt Disney Company theme parks, Disneyland in Anaheim, California, and the Magic Kingdom in the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida, both have "Main Street, U.S.A." sections immediately at their front. These areas, which are designed to look like the main street of a small town, house gift shops, restaurants and various services, along with park offices on the second floors. While the architecture of these "streets" appears to be turn-of-the-20th-century, in fact these are decorative false-fronts on industrial-style buildings. Main Street, U.S.A. is also present at Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland. At Tokyo Disneyland the area is named "World Bazaar," but has the same look as Main Street, albeit housed under a decorative glass roof for protection from Japan's unpredictable weather.

Disney's design copied visual elements of small-town America seen in films by Frank Capra and others, in a deliberate attempt to capture the iconic symbolism of small-town America. Disney wanted to embed the values and memories associated with life in small towns into an entertainment experience for tourists.[3]

Preservation and Main Street[edit]

Main Street Inc. is the name of a community revitalization program begun by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the late 1970s. The core of the Main Street philosophy is the preservation of the historic built environment by engaging in historic preservation. Main Street focuses on a holistic approach to revitalization based on the 4-point approach of design, promotion, economic restructuring, and organization. Originally targeted at small, traditional downtowns, the program has expanded to include towns of various sizes, including neighborhood districts in several large urban centers.[4]

In many communities, a merchants' association or business improvement district serves a promotional role on behalf of the merchants of a downtown Main Street. Individual city governments also may engage in revitalisation or historic preservation efforts to support a downtown core, either to make a community appear more unique for tourism or to stem a flow of commerce out of the city into suburbs with shopping malls and cookie-cutter big box stores.

In the United States federal funds are allocated specifically for restoration of historic properties on the former U.S. Route 66, the main street of many roadside towns; this funding is administered by the US National Park Service.[5]

International use and equivalents[edit]

The main street in the Peruvian town of Máncora, which happens to be the Pan-American Highway.
Baylis Street, the Main Street of Wagga Wagga, New South Wales
The Main Street of Cullinan, South Africa
Looking across Main Street in Queens, New York, United States, at a post office. All five boroughs of New York City have streets named "Main Street", but this is the only street named "Main Street" in the city that is truly an arterial road.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ruth Ann Alexander, "Midwest Main Street in Literature: Symbol of Conformity," Rocky Mountain Social Science Journal (1968) 5#2 pp 1-12
  2. ^ Hans-Jürgen Grabbe, "The Ideal Type of the Small Town: 'Main Street' in a Social Science Context," Amerikastudien (1987) 32#2 pp 181-190.
  3. ^ Robert Neuman, "Disneyland's Main Street, USA, and its Sources in Hollywood, USA," Journal of American Culture (2008) 31#1 pp 83-97, online
  4. ^ "Home Page". Main Street. National Main Street Center. 2009-04-09. 
  5. ^ "Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary: Route 66". US National Park Service. 

Further reading[edit]

Primary sources[edit]

External links[edit]