In American cities during their prime, the area called “downtown” was a place of excitement, drawing shoppers in from rural areas, especially for the great department stores. Even small cities and regional market towns had their own department stores. Vital downtowns of all sizes also had many specialty stores, restaurants, movie theaters, offices and other services.
Starting in the second half of the twentieth century, extensive suburban areas grew. In many cities, the inner areas decayed while the best and most convenient shopping moved to the suburbs, often in situations that constituted “suburban sprawl.”
In the largest and most vital cities, like New York and Chicago, department stores and specialty stores, often extremely expensive and fashionable, have always thrived. In some other cities, the downtown shopping areas have become rather bleak, with many empty and neglected stores, while those that remain sell low priced, low quality goods to low income people. Some cities have seen a decline then a rebirth of their central commercial areas as factory and industrial buildings find new uses as desirable residences and office spaces.
Smaller towns and the business districts of suburban communities still have main streets filled with stores of various types. During trying economic times, a portion of these stores might be empty. A small variety store is typical, as is a branch of a discount drug chain (and perhaps one of the last remaining independent pharmacies). Depending upon the size of the town, you will find one or more shoe and clothing stores, a hardware store, a beauty salon, perhaps a book and stationery store, a restaurant or two, a coffee shop, an eyeglass store, and a variety of other types of retail and service establishments.
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