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The Way I See It: Things Will Be Great Downtown

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“Things will be great when you’re

Downtown

No finer place for sure

Downtown.”  

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Petula Clark’s 1964 megahit “Downtown” was written about a much larger city than Montpelier, and, in it, songwriter Tony Hatch suggests going downtown as a good cure for loneliness. Central to the song, though, is the message that downtown is the place to be and a place to be celebrated. Downtown Montpelier fits the bill.

While there is plenty to celebrate about our city, one point deserves special attention: how enjoyable I found it to work one block from State and Main for five years.

A big factor was that my employer was the Kellogg-Hubbard Library. But rather than focusing on the job, I’m thinking about how pleasing it was to work right in the heart of town. In some respects — like convenience, compactness, and friendliness — big cities can’t compete.

One consideration about a workplace is what you can do during your lunch break. Many people, including me for decades, work in places that are out of the way enough so that there are few opportunities if you have 30 or 45 minutes, or even an hour, for lunch. 

Usually, people need to drive if they want to do something during their lunch break. Larger employers often have a cafeteria, and smaller ones have a lunch room, perhaps with vending machines. Some places have food trucks. 

But I didn’t have to drive anywhere to get a good lunch, because within five minutes or so, I could walk to at least 15 places to eat.

It wasn’t just being able to regularly meet other downtown friends for lunch that I appreciated. I could easily walk over to the post office to mail a package, stop by the pharmacy to pick up a prescription, go by the ATM for cash, visit my dentist or eye doctor, pay my property taxes, or pick up groceries. Being next door to Manghis’ Bread was quite a bonus.

I could walk over to Bear Pond Books. How’s that for irony? Working at a library, with tens of thousands of books to lend out free and the ability to influence which new books were purchased, yet still buying books! If you love books, you love books.

Walking is in my DNA, and almost every Wednesday morning, I met a friend outside the library before work for a walk through the “meadows” neighborhood, up through Hubbard Park, down Hubbard Park Drive, past the State House, and back to our starting point. 

About once a week during lunch time, I met a friend who worked for the state and we took a different route about town. Almost any day, walks were great opportunities for fresh air.

I worked at the library for more than five years and retired two years ago, but I still have strong memories of how much I enjoyed working downtown and — a companion boon — having real lunch breaks. I probably have stronger feelings about this than most people do.

Before becoming a library administrator and getting to work in the heart of our community with a wonderful group of people in a place that everyone loves, I spent more than 30 years working in Vermont schools, first as an English teacher and later as a principal. 

I loved working in schools, but one drawback was that for more than three decades, I seldom had real lunch breaks. As a teacher, there were always students to meet with, papers to read, or department meetings to attend. As an assistant principal and then a principal, my dreams of getting a lunch break were futile on most days.

As I look back longingly to pre-pandemic times, I know that others miss some of the same things I do. Many people now work from home, and it looks like some are going to continue to do so, even when the pandemic is over. While some of us are enjoying lunch outdoors, that season is nearing an end, and although we expected to be back to normal by this time, we don’t yet know what that is going to look like. 

We’re inching back indoors to restaurants, entertainment, schools, and other potentially crowded places. It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to say without reservation, “Things will be great when you’re downtown,” but we’re headed there.