Main Street was once the central focus of the small American town. The name of the street may not have been Main, but there was typically one primary place which was a pedestrian-friendly commercial thoroughfare. Vehicles of all kinds brought customers and products to this place where ideas, services and goods were exchanged and celebrated and citizens from diverse backgrounds met and participated in an exciting local marketplace.
The storefronts and signs on the traditional Main Street were carefully designed and built to attract customers. Signage from the 1930s through early 1950s was often integrated with the architecture of the building. Many signs that were deemed unattractive in later decades continued to vividly broadcast the vitality that Main Street once maintained. In the late 20th century new local ordinances and sign codes began to require the removal of many historic signs, and exuberant materials like neon tubing were shunned. In addition, big box retail chains began to build stores on the outskirts of small towns and offered discounted prices. Unfortunately the discounted prices came with a discounted valuation of civic consciousness and the highway edge-of-town environment undermined the possibility for a safe, walkable community.
Today, many beautiful and interesting empty commercial buildings line the Main streets of small towns across the country. We admire these venerable streets and stores. And we are especially pleased when we come upon the rare old sign that has survived. Perhaps our photographs and essays will promote a new appreciation for what has survived. We are constantly looking for new ways to see Main Street today and imagine its possibilities for the future.