DO YOU EVER HOLD expectations of a community that, in reality, are not what you envisioned?
Such was my impression of New Prague, a southern Minnesota community of about 7,500 rooted in the Czech, Bavarian and Bohemian heritages. I expected a well-kept downtown burgeoning with lovely shops.
Instead, on a Sunday afternoon, I found a Main Street that needs a facelift or, at a minimum, an attentiveness to appearance. Cigarette butts littered on sidewalks and beer bottles perched on window sills and doorsteps outside bars did not give me a positive first impression.
Uneven and pitted sections of sidewalk made me wary of tripping. I noted worn steps and many weary looking buildings, with bricks even missing from the facades of some. I wasn’t purposely looking for these things. But they were noticeable enough that I noticed.
I also noticed many empty storefronts. Peering through the expansive front windows of the former Rynda Hardware, I spotted the loveliest of wood floors in a space that holds great potential for a business.
That’s a key word here. Potential. Downtown New Prague, with attention to visual presentation and detail, could really shine. The many historic buildings are an asset to this community. Some, like the former First National Bank, now home to an optometrist’s office, have been well cared for and stand as examples of what this downtown could be.
It takes money, and a strong desire, to improve the physical appearances of buildings to create a cohesive and inviting downtown. And I realize business owners are likely just getting by and don’t have extra funds.
But I see what can be done with a few simple details. Bargain Betty’s Consignment Shop, for example, sports an eye-catching pink, white and black striped awning with pleasing graphic signage that makes me want to shop there, except shops aren’t open in New Prague on Sundays. That’s understandable given these mom-and-pop business owners need a day off, too.
Prairie Pond Vineyard and Winery, in an exceptional restored building, has also created an outdoor patio oasis, complete with water features, between downtown buildings. My husband and I planned to sample wine there on Sunday, but found the place closed for a private party. It’s not typically open on Sundays, a disappointment.
Green spaces in the heart of a Main Street always please me. So do window boxes and planters brimming with flowers. And art. Downtown New Prague has some, but could use more. Again, it’s the seemingly simplest of details that can make a difference in how a downtown business district appears to visitors, whether they stop or continue driving through town.
I don’t want New Prague folks and business owners to take my comments the wrong way, to be discouraged. Rather, I hope my observations are useful. I’ve often thought communities could benefit from an outsider’s first impressions. I’ll return to New Prague, but next time on a Saturday, when shops are open. I want to experience Main Street from the inside, too, not just the outside.
© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling