From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in GoLocal24.com
On March 18, GoLocal had a story about how national chains have taken over Providence’s Thayer Street, heavily populated by students from Brown and RISD. It reminded me of how much quieter the retail strip was in our first stretch in Providence, in the late ‘70s. Then, the restaurants, with the exception of the International House of Diabetes, ah I mean Pancakes, and all the shops were one-off local establishments. The street had a kind of quaintness, such as little gift shops run by genteel blue-haired ladies.
All long gone, and the street could now be almost anywhere, with a few exceptions, most notably The Avon, the old art deco-ish movie theater, Andrea’s restaurant and Spectrum India. To me the biggest disaster was the closing, in 2004, of the College Hill Bookstore, with its eclectic, even inspired collection of books and magazines. It was far more interesting than the still very bland Brown Bookstore. The College Hill Bookstore was the hub of the street, killed by the Internet, as with so many local shops. (Spectrum India was on Thayer Street before moving into the College Hill Bookstore’s site.)
That Brown has grown, and become more of a national and international school, is another reason that the quirky New England aspects of Thayer Street have mostly disappeared. The Thayer Street retail strip could now be almost anywhere, which may be quite all right with most of the college community that now uses it.
I sort of like the much more crowded, city-like (including bigger, taller buildings) and perhaps more dynamic Thayer Street of today, although I and many neighbors also miss the often sleepy charm of 40 years ago.
Then you have the city’s other big student neighborhood – the one that has developed in downtown Providence, with the expansion there of Johnson & Wales University, RISD, URI and Roger Williams University bringing remarkable change. Now there are many more people downtown day and night than three decades ago, and it’s become much more of a residential as well as commercial neighborhood. This has offset much or all of the effects of the exit of many big companies from downtown over the past few decades. It may be hard to believe now but Providence used to be a major corporate-headquarters town.
Anyway, the recent transformation of downtown has been very heartening considering how abandoned it looked, especially after office hours, not so many years ago.
To read the GoLocal story, please hit this link.