We have nothing against big-box stores and chain restaurants. We have shopped at Lowe’s and dined at Outback and were not disappointed. But no town is known for its Walmart or Applebee’s, no matter how popular they prove with shoppers and diners.
Instead, a town is known for its unique characteristics. Think of New York City, and you think of Central Park or the Empire State Building or Times Square.
For that reason, we’re happy that Clayton’s next comprehensive land-use plan will likely place a great deal of emphasis on downtown and on parks and recreation.
It’s not that we’re opposed to Clayton’s chain businesses or the shopping centers they call home. Lowes Foods in Clayton Corners is a great grocery store. Just as important, that shopping center is home to some wonderful mom-and-pop businesses. If you’re a beer fan, for example, you’ll want to check out Clayton Beverage Co. For a small space, the shop offers quite the variety, and the staff is knowledgeable.
But no Clayton resident touting his hometown will talk first about Walmart or Food Lion or even Starbucks. More likely, a Clayton resident will talk bout riding a bike or walking along Sam’s Branch Greenway. Or if he’s not the outdoors type, a Clayton resident might talk about live music at The Flipside, rooftop dining at Manning’s, the latest offerings at Wine on Main, an outdoor concert on Town Square or any of the sculptures on the town’s public art trail.
To their credit, Clayton leaders have placed a great deal on emphasis on parks and recreation. Especially of late, the Town Council has been aggressive in acquiring land for parks that, when built, will offer a variety of amenities. That’s the council responding, as it should, to a growing community’s demand for places to play.
The council has been more timid in its support of downtown, offering a few grant dollars for facade improvements and pledging to work with building owners on such matters as parking and the placement of Dumpsters to improve downtown’s curb appeal. But at the very least, the council is acknowledging that Main Street is more essential to Clayton’s identify than U.S. 70 Business, and the council is rightly cautious about committing too many tax dollars to serve private business interests. (We’d feel much better about hefty taxpayer support of downtown if property owners there would come together with their own commitment of money.)
But in any event, the Town Council is likely to reaffirm its commitment to both park and recreation and downtown when it considers a long-range land-use plan in the weeks ahead. And that bodes well for Clayton’s identity moving forward.