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Stories, things to do, and one of a kind tips from downtown Cape Girardeau.
#DowntownCG through the Years

* This is a guest blog written by Board Member, Danny Essner *

 

As a Board member of Old Town Cape, I am very passionate about Downtown Cape and have fond memories of downtown from the ’50s and ‘60s.

I grew up in Kelso and my family would typically make one trip a month to Cape to purchase what was not available in Kelso (which actually had several merchants in those days). Our route took us from Hwy 61 to S. Sprigg, where we drove by the cement plant and their big quarry on our way to the downtown parking lot, which was located on the banks of the river and paved with cobblestones (this was before the wall was built). I remember always worrying about our car rolling into the river – something that occurred occasionally when drivers failed to set their parking brakes. The current parking lot on S. Main was the site of the Frisco railroad depot, where I had the opportunity to board a train to Chaffee when I was a Cub Scout. All of the major retail stores were located downtown.

I remember shopping at Brown’s Shoe Store for my annual pair of new shoes. In those days the salesman actually measured your feet and provided a pair of shoes that fit perfectly. I also remember going to Ross Young’s clothing store to get fitted for my very first suit that I wore to my grade school graduation. We bought most of our groceries in those days in Kelso when Kelso still had a grocery store, but when we needed something special, would shop at the A&P store at Good Hope and Sprigg or the Kroger store on Broadway where the Dollar General is currently located.

There seemed to be gas stations on every other corner, especially on Morgan Oak, which provided access to the old bridge. Like most of my friends, I had to work my way through college. I had the opportunity to work at Urhahn’s 66 Service on Good Hope St. in the late ’60s. At that time, St. Francis Hospital was located across the street, Farmer’s & Merchant’s Bank was just down the street where the Salvation Army is now located, and the Haarig business district on Good Hope was thriving.

Cape had only two movie theatres when I was in high school – the Esquire and the Rialto – and they were both on Broadway. Since each had only one screen and a small lobby, we would have to line up outside on the sidewalk after buying our tickets to wait for the patrons from the prior show to exit. None of us minded, since that gave us a chance to check out all of the kids who were cruising Broadway. The building currently occupied by El Sol was originally a car dealership, but at some point in the late ‘60s had a putt-putt golf course installed on the second floor. I still remember taking a date there and watching the cars cruising by while I was waiting for my turn to putt.

At some point in the ’60s, Cape’s retail establishments started migrating from our downtown to the west end of Cape. This process really accelerated when I-55 was constructed in the ‘60s. After seeing our downtown experience a long and slow decline, I am really excited about the revitalization that it has experienced in recent years.

Where Downtown Cape was once home to our major department stores, it is now home to numerous boutiques and mom-and-pop shops. Downtown has also become the dining and entertainment destination for Cape, with numerous high-quality restaurants to choose from. The renovation of four large buildings at the corner of Broadway and Fountain in the last few years has been a real game-changer. With the combined impact of the development of the River Campus and Century Casino, Downtown Cape is once again thriving. Our downtown is now “the place to live” for our younger generation, with demand for apartments and lofts far exceeding supply.

With all of this in mind, I was particularly encouraged by the fact that the majority of our downtown merchants flourished in 2020 in the midst of the pandemic as they experienced a surge of new customers from Illinois, Kentucky, and St. Louis as well as Cape residents who were reminded of the importance of supporting local. We have also seen a recent increase in the number of entrepreneurs who are making plans to open new businesses in downtown in the next year or so.

I am very proud of the progress that we have made and am even more excited about what the future has in store. The best is yet to come!

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