Like most American kids, growing up I envisioned myself moving far away from my hometown, having great adventures and seeing the world. But for me, when it all boils down to who I am at my core, I really don’t love traveling, and I find some of the greatest joys close to home. Lately, one unexpected turn of events has been a rekindled love affair between me and my hometown, Glens Falls, NY. As a child, I saw it as an exciting place to live—nice clothing shops, a beautiful department store in the heart of town, a wonderful library, a playground behind the fire station and a candy shop that topped all others. All of these places could be reached on foot with stroller in tow. What more could a kid need?
Then in a short period of time, everything changed. In 1975, the Aviation Mall established itself in the middle of strip-mall-centric Queensbury a few miles away, and I witness the demise of our precious downtown Glens Falls. Even at a young age I was acutely aware of the direct correlation between the success of the mall and the destruction of downtown life. Driving to Queensbury became a necessity to purchase just about any basic item.
However, my sister and I were not ready to give up on our town. We still wandered downtown when walking home from school. Our excursions mostly included finding an after-school snack at Oma Pizza shop, visiting an elderly gentleman that we knew who lived in the high-rise retirement home across from the City Hall and spending time at the Crandall Library. Together, we lamented the lost vibrancy that was once our downtown Glens Falls.
After graduating from High School in 1983 and spending a few years at Marlboro College in Vermont, I found myself drawn to Saratoga Springs, NY. My father worked there, and the town was abundantly populated with artists, students and musicians. There were funky shops, inexpensive restaurants and many, many bars. Unlike the town of my past, one could find live, original music any night of the week in the numerous clubs. I turned my back on Glens Falls. I was tired of driving through town hoping that something good, right or enriching might get started there again.
After years, of ignoring any changes or development in Glens Falls, my husband, Philip, and I started spending summers at the old family camp just north of the city’s center. Renting our house in Saratoga each year for the last four summers, we have begun to explore the some of my old haunts, and we have discovered some really great new places. Philip has even started to worry that I may one day attempt to drag him back to my hometown to live.
The question for me is no longer, “Will this place ever become the wonderful town that I remember?” It is the question, “What will sustain this place?” I wonder if the positive changes that I see emerging from new shop owners, landlords, the local farm market and an emerging food scene will be able to grab hold and survive. I sure hope so. There are some really great things happening in Glens Falls right now. I hope that writing about my hometown will help to bolster the growth and creativity that is waking up after many sleepy years for the folks in 12801.