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July 15, 1997

When Les Hall and Leisa Haynes of the Oklahoma Main Street staff were here the other day for the Perry Main Street organization's annual year-end review, they found many positive signs of progress. Through the Main Street program, our town is striving to renovate the core business district in the downtown area, to increase traffic (potential shoppers) in the downtown area and to improve Perry's image with the public in general.

Of course, increased shopper traffic in the downtown area means every business in Perry will enjoy a greater sales potential, so what's good for Main Street is good for the entire community. Many travelers on I-35 at the west edge of Perry whizz right on by every day. Main Street is trying to find ways to bring them into the heart of the community, to explore the "queen city of the Cherokee Strip," and to be glad they came.

The state staff members were not here to give the local group a pass/fail grade or to render a white glove inspection. Rather, they were here to listen to Main Street committee members, the board of directors and officers, to hear about the things that have succeeded and the disappointments that are inevitable in endeavors such as this. One of the highlights of the day was a walking tour of the downtown area in company with Clyde Speer, Main Street president; Anna Lou Randall, treasurer and board member; and Betty Warner, our program director. The visitors were excited by the possibilities they found among our well-preserved Victorian-era buildings, the potential for downtown residences on the upper floors of some of those structures, the vision for continued improvements as voiced by local Main Streeters, and the genuine sense of community they experienced here. "Oklahoma City would kill to have that spirit," they commented.

Some property owners have declared plans for stripping away the aluminum "slip covers" that now hide the early-1900 architectural style introduced here shortly after the Cherokee Strip run on September 16, 1893, and some have already carried out such plans. When the phony facades were added in the 1930s, 1940s, et seq., the objective was to "modernize" older buildings in order to compete with the glitzy new malls being built throughout the U.S. at that time. They served that purpose, and, if nothing else, they protected the sand stone, brick and mortar which they covered.

But interests change, and now the trend is to uncover the old and take pride in its antiquity. Guthrie has led the way in that regard. In short, that's what Perry Main Street is trying to do. Along with that -- and because we do have many buildings with interesting histories -- renewed interest has been expressed in placing our entire downtown on the historical register. That objective will require a detailed and careful development, but it can be achieved.

One of the disappointments expressed by local Main Streeters in their discussions with Mr. Hall and Ms. Haynes concerned the lack of volunteers to step forward when projects are announced. Partly this is a matter of burnout -- too few people attempting to do it all. The solution is to seek out those even mildly interested in this program and to persuade them to tackle specific, doable tasks, with the hope that familiarity with Main Street's aims will stimulate the new workers to stay hitched.

Total success will not come easily nor will it arrive overnight. .Our Main Street program is just two years old, still struggling to enlist workers or just plain enthusiasts, but its goals are so noble and so worthy that all of us who live in this town should be actively involved. At present there is no paid membership, as such, in Perry Main Street, so all of us are invited to take part. Next time you read about a civic chore being undertaken by this group or those with similar objectives, ask what you can do to help. They'll think of something, and you'll be glad you did. It's part of our sense of community here.