Its fun these days to see activity in the Main Street District as building owners begin to make improvements. And reassuring to know that this is the beginning of a trend likely to accelerate --- soon when you consider that three upper-level housing rehab projects are slated to commence this fall, too.
The most dramatic work has been going on at the Charitone (above), where facing brick on some areas of the fourth floor, loosened by moisture infiltration over the years, has been removed, brought to sidewalk level, cleaned and now is being reinstalled.
Also on Tuesday, workers from Cromer Construction were beginning the job of repainting the 1890s and later wood and ironwork of the upper-floor facade and cornice on Mary Stierwalt's half of the Hickman Building. The Hickman, adjoining Knights of Pythias Building and north-side Brown Block are the only buildings on the square that retain their original cast iron cornices. The detail is amazing.
Elsewhere, this is Richard Atwell's smaller building, just north of the Charitone, now in a transitional stage as it awaits awnings and new exterior lighting. But all of the brick work has been repaired and the old shingled infill above the windows and door removed and replaced in a manner in harmony with the simplicity of the original facade, which would have been a mass of glass.
It may be that the third meeting of the day yesterday was one too many. I was sitting with friends last evening before the presentation started and we got to talking about when South Central Mutual Insurance was going to move from its familiar location on the east side of the square to an off-square location.
"Oh that's not going to happen until Sept. 1," I think I said. Carol looked at me a little oddly and said something like, "Uh, that was 11 days ago." Whoops.
The presentation was by Jim Thompson, business development specialist from Main Street Iowa, who had spent the day in town and was reviewing detailed information about Chariton's retail shopping base. Interesting stuff.
The good news was that Chariton has a shopping surplus --- in other words more money is spent here than than the base projection for a town of Chariton's size and location. But, much of that surplus is accounted for by our excellent Hy-Vee food store, due to reach out for even more customers shortly with a major expansion and renovation.
The biggest "leakage" deficit --- money that might be spent here that is spent elsewhere --- was in the area of auto sales. That's hardly surprising after the loss some years ago of our General Motors dealership (Ford is still here and doing fine). And a challenging deficit to deal with.
There also is substantial restaurant leakage, not surprising to those of us who live here, but puzzling. I've never understood why Corydon, our smaller county seat neighbor to the south, can support multiple sit-down restaurants with regular hours and extensive menus --- as can Albia to the east --- but we're challenged in that category. There is hope, however. The redevelopers of the Charitone are looking for a restaurant tenant for its first floor and there's the promise, too, that our Mexican restaurant that closed some months ago after an owner/personnel dispute will re-open soon. We'll see.
There doesn't seem to be a lack of customer base here --- it's just that the darndest things happen to some of our restaurants, including divorce, fires and family fights.
Main Street's Jim Thompson was using a good deal of data Tuesday night of the sort that is harvested any time any of us uses a credit card, then sold to anyone interested in buying it. "Big Brother is watching," was Thompson's caution.
That's something I don't think too much about, but have really been noticing online this week in relation to the personal data collected and used by our friends at Google.
Over the weekend, I decided I wanted to replace a piece of missing brass --- military insignia worn on uniforms. Finding the tab I wanted was a challenge because my Vietnam battalion was smaller and somewhat obscure. So I spent quite a bit of time poking around the varous online military memorabilia outlets before finding it.
Now, every time I pull up some of my regular Web sites, in no way related to the military, advertisements for the "Vietnam Veterans Store" and other outlets keep popping up. I don't really mind, since I don't pay attention to this sort of advertising anyway except when it interferes with the speed a page loads. But it's still mildly disconcerting.