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My Turn Can we revitalize downtown Clinton?

Do you remember when there was a reason to come to town on a Saturday?

When we had three variety stores - five & dimes, as they were known? Burnett’s was my favorite. They had that big candy counter just inside the door where you could buy thick, chewy banana-flavored candy, and that pink, white and brown coconut bar. Oh, and the peanut butter logs and Sugar Daddies, Chiclets, bubble gum cigars and candy cigarettes (long before the real thing became politically incorrect).

Dress shops? We had those, too. Annie and Gladys, Colleen, Lexie and Mary, Leflers, and a few more through the years whose names I can’t remember.

Old men whittled away the morning on benches outside the Courthouse, while others spent the day in the “domino parlor.” Remember how smoke came rolling out when the door opened?

My grandma would do the laundry at Evans’ washateria while we visited Miss Imogene’s for a comic book and a “suicide,” which, as I was recently reminded, really wasn’t very good. Not that that stopped us from drinking them like they were. The drink was typically a mixture of Coke, orange and root beer, though you could request Dr Pepper as an alternate ingredient, as I remember. Mmmm.

Then one day, I moved away for college and career and stopped paying attention to my hometown.

When I came back, downtown Clinton had disappeared, done in by a devastating flood, a highway bypass and Walmart. Three strikes and we were out.

Recently, I have been talking about the good old days with a lot of people, and asking them if we can bring back the glory days or if Clinton is dead. Sadly, I am finding more people who think there is no hope for a comeback.

But Monday evening at a special meeting of the City Council, Mayor Roger Rorie said something that gave me hope. He said he would like to see the city buy up vacant downtown buildings and “incubate businesses.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard a similar idea. Former Councilman Dickey Hink told me a couple of years ago that the city should rent buildings from the owners then offer use of them for free to people who wanted to open businesses downtown.

I like the mayor’s version even better. After a set amount of time, the city would sell the buildings to the renters at a greatly reduced price, he said.

The plan, he said, “is not gonna be free, but it won’t break us.”

He said many places are becoming “flea market towns” and drawing shoppers to their downtown areas. We love our flea markets — just count how many you see along Highway 65 to Conway.

And speaking of Highway 65, well, that’s our ticket to gold, everyone agrees. Thousands of cars travel Highway 65 through our county daily. We should be a good stopping place on the way to Branson and beyond. We have some fast food places and a nice city park to offer travelers needing a break from the road.

But we can’t seem to figure out what we need to entice those motorists to veer off the main highway and check out downtown Clinton. A history angle with our WPA courthouse? Flea markets? Boutiques? Something no other town has thought to offer?

Any ideas? Contact your city councilor and make your suggestions to him or her. They will be discussing this further at their regular meeting Thursday, Sept. 12. That’s at 7 p.m. at the Municipal Airport. Come on out and be a part of bringing back our town.

Anita Tucker is editor of the Van Buren County Democrat. Reach her at editor@vanburencountydem.com.

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