We went to Fredericksburg last weekend to visit relatives. What a neat little town, and such a contrast to the sprawl closer to home! It has a wonderful main street (actually called Main Street), quaint shops selling everything you don’t need but will probably buy anyway, and a plethora of bakeries and restaurants. The new and old county courthouses – photos below – face a big park where we saw a pop-up ice-skating rink and a German-style wooden village, paying tribute to the local Gründungsväter (“founding fathers”). Downtown was crowded with people still on holiday. Most had shopping bags and/or the pleasant dazed expressions born of too many strudel. We had to employ all our wiles to find a place for lunch that didn’t involve a long wait.

The whole bustling scene reminded me of the National Trust’s Main Street Program and its assertion that historic main streets can survive and thrive, even as big-box stores and their parking lots spring up outside town. Small businesses may not be able to outprice their competitors, but they offer a retail experience that feels like something real, not simply another climate-controlled stroll around the mall. And yes: “retail experience” makes me roll my eyes, but it’s something people want. It’s something we want. And it’s where historic main streets leave malls and big-box stores and strip malls in the dust (economically too, according to a Senior Resident Fellow at ULI). I don’t know if Fredericksburg has a Main Street program, but it’s doing pretty well for itself.

I wish I’d had a camera, but these gleanings from Google images will have to do. Believe me that the sidewalks and streets were much busier during our visit.

[clockwise: Main Street, Fredericksburg; Gillespie County library (originally the courthouse, 1881); current Gillespie County Courthouse (1939)]