Being Up on Downtown

Dexter Avenue with prosperous merchants and businesses in the 1950s. Photo by Franklin Collier, Landmarks Collection

Montgomery’s downtown has a rich and prosperous heritage that continues today. But to understand the future of downtown Montgomery, it helps to understand the recent past.

The story begins where two cities became one. The convergence of two cities, East Alabama Town and New Philadelphia, can be seen in meeting of the streets at Court Square Fountain, where a commemorative marker marks the creation of a new city.

Downtown Montgomery initially flourished, thriving on proximity to the  river, the capitol building (eventually), a series of railroad tracks, and, later, one of America’s premier street car and trolley systems. But, by the 1960s, paved roads, sprawl, and various economic forces conspired to begin to draw the economic and cultural life out of downtown. This was happening around the nation in many urban centers.

Urban renewal movements hit cities all over the country. People wanted to save downtown areas from the shopping centers that sprang up in outlaying suburbs and began to siphon business from the business districts. In Montgomery, a group called Downtown Unlimited was an association of very active downtown merchants and businessmen who promoted the downtown economy and community events. But as Montgomery continued to migrate east, that organization ultimately died away by the mid to late 1980s.

As downtown revitalization has again moved to the economic forefront, the existing/surviving downtown businesses have organized, once again, to create awareness of those that have continued to keep downtown alive through declining decades.

The impetus for birth of this new organization was the encouragement of Ken Reynolds, the retail coordinator for the City, and his infamous “sneaker mail” method of networking by beating the pavement meeting and greeting the downtown businesses people.

The Downtown Business Association (DBA) was thus organized last May and began by defining their mission:

  • To promote and encourage the creation and expansion of businesses and professional organizations in the downtown area.
  • To provide a forum for members to develop personal and business skills, obtain support and develop new ideas and strategies.
  • To provide a focal point for businesses and organization to promote retail business opportunities downtown throughout the River Region.

Jeff Andrews of Kwik Kopy Shop was elected President and an active Board of Directors represents an assortment of downtown entities. The current membership is comprised of an assortment of businesses, merchants, visitor attractions, and other professional components.

The DBA defined a large area as Downtown and established an associate membership for those businesses interested in promoting the Midtown area but which are not actually physically located downtown. A strong downtown area benefits all merchants and businesses, not just those located there. DBA meetings are bi-monthly at rotating locations and offer a variety of informative speakers. A website is in the works but DBA has a promotional presence on Facebook, so visit that page for meeting updates and downtown happenings.

The Klein Clock now standing across from Court Square Fountain was adopted as the trademark of the DBA, and artist Carol Barksdale created a fabulous logo with the clock’s image and the motto, “It’s a Great Time to Be Downtown.” The clock was originally erected in 1938 by Klein and Son Jewelers in front of their Dexter Avenue store. The clock remained there until Klein and Son relocated in 1986. In 2009, the Heilpern family graciously gave the clock to the City of Montgomery and the 3,800 pound Seth Thomas instrument was returned to its rightful sidewalk home and was lovingly restored for future decades of use.

The Klein clock returns to regally preside over Downtown revitalization.

So many Midtown dwellers choose to work near to where we reside. With numbers of people moving downtown to occupy the many loft living spaces, restaurants and hotels teeming with nightlife, and many entrepreneurs starting new ventures, It’s a Great Time To Be Downtown!

Carole King (not the singer, just the hummer) enjoys midtown living from South Capitol Parkway in Capitol Heights where she has lived for 25+years. Carole has been the historic properties curator for the Landmarks Foundation that manages Old Alabama Town for 28 years and is passionate about neighborhoods, their architectural character, their people, and their preservation!

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