The treasure of downtown Amherst

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Locals for locals. Or, long-time customers celebrating their beloved downtown Amherst businesses. During this holiday season, the BID is spotlighting the downtown sense of community made so powerful by those who open their doors daily for us. We found some local celebrities — a college president who loves books, a band director who loves movies and a famous author who loves research, who then in turn spoke about what their local favorites mean to them. And we found many other local residents who wanted to spread their love. Since this is the season of giving (and therefore shopping), it seemed appropriate to share the stories of how important these people and places truly are. So that everyone feels welcome and can be part of our downtown family.

A century ago, the main streets of Amherst were lined with all kinds of shops and businesses. You could purchase utilitarian items such as carpets, paper products and groceries as well as unique and fun treasures. Downtown Amherst was a destination where you could visit with your neighbors and shop-keepers and gather supplies and gifts while feeling part of the community. It remains so today. Yes, the people and businesses have changed but not the dynamic. The character and atmosphere of downtown Amherst remains rooted in the business owners that anchor our commercial core.

One long-time patron of A.J. Hastings described that establishment as “a neighborhood itself” and further declared it to be the “center of community in Amherst [where] customers are treated with warmth, efficiency and courtesy.” There were many more quotes along these lines, such as one customer who “loves Henion Bakery for the delicious from-scratch baked goods… and the community spirit where everyone comes together.”

Having a downtown fabric made up of businesses that weave everyone together in this sense of place and collectiveness is significant to our long-term well-being. As one member of our famous movie house noted, “our quality of life is high, thanks to downtown treasures like the Amherst Cinema.” We are so lucky! In fact, that’s exactly what a member of the local clergy said about the Black Sheep Deli. She called it “the type of place I would go out of my way to visit. [We are] so lucky to have this close by.”

It seems that everyone we invited to join us in this campaign was on a similar theme. The comments varied slightly from business to business but the concept was the same. That it was the people who ran the businesses that made their customers come back time and again. The personal attention and welcome that patrons receive and the feeling of being a part of the downtown community is compelling. This is what makes a downtown a “neighborhood” rather than a mall or generic shopping street. It is valuable in this age of the internet and de-personalization to still have a place to shop where you can ask questions, browse, or just gossip. A place like the television series, Cheers, where everyone knows your name.

That place is downtown Amherst. Like centuries ago, and all the decades in between, you can come here and feel the community that surrounds you. Within the establishments and with the people who own and operate them. Please join us, you are always welcome.