A business center creates vitality

What really creates a sense of community in a town? It's probably a combination of factors, from a thriving and accessible downtown to an active school, cultural events that gather residents together, to a range of support programs for people of all ages. But if there is a drastic diminution of one part of the equation, the entire structure of the community suffers. This is what Sharon merchants see as the real problem with the drop-off in the business life in their town, as witnessed in a story by reporter Ryan Snyder in The Lakeville Journal last week.

Empty restaurants and storefronts make it harder for merchants to attract customers, but it also makes it harder for town residents to come together regularly and to create a sense of community. It's a vicious cycle. So it is important to consider the problems the current merchants face in Sharon. While every town in the Tri-State region has its own issues, there are commonalities shared among the towns as well. When one town starts to feel the pain of a downturn, whatever the reason, surrounding towns should take note.

It's hard to understand why there's no place to eat in Sharon. Is it a chicken-and-egg problem? Is it that zoning prevents restaurants from opening in the first place, or that those few that have opened couldn't pull in enough customers to make a go of it? The few restaurants with seating capacity that have opened struggled in Sharon; West Main did well but ended up moving to Lakeville, retaining its Sharon-based name.

The Corner Restaurant survived longer than any other with seating, and drew customers into the shopping plaza, which then gave patrons the opportunity to browse around and shop. Without a draw to the shopping center that encourages walking traffic, there will continue to be a gap in support for the merchants there.

Sharon has a lot going for it as far as many other aspects of community-building: a good and active elementary school, a social service department, a recreation program for all ages, a cultural life centering around its library, historical society and the extraordinary community theater at TriArts. And the town's child care center, Sharon Day Care, has benefited from strong community support, as seen in another story by Snyder on the same Sharon page of this newspaper Jan. 10. Renovation work there is being done by parents of children who attend the center. These parents have the perspective to know that their hard work will benefit those students and families who come after them.

It's this kind of true community spirit that invigorates all towns, and could really help Sharon deal with the current instability in its economic life. The town government has expressed support for the business community, and some measure of real initiative on the town's part could be helpful to its struggling businesses. And by the way, shop locally. It saves on gasoline and helps your neighbors, who are running the small businesses that help make up the fabric of the community of all our area towns.

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