We have seen the downtown area of Walla Walla get brighter every year, and to my delight the mall has become a little less bright as time goes by. I don’t
mean to say that I am glad that businesses are not doing well. However, any mall to me is just a sick tribute to the mass marketing, commercialism, and material obsession of America, rather than a place where shops are localized for a person’s convenience. That is what Main streets and Downtowns are for, an area to localize shops. Walla Walla has done a fantastic job with drawing businesses, national attention, and people to the Main Street. There are stores for everyone, whether they be a local resident just shopping or visitor looking seriously for some fun. The wide array of stores covers clothing (both recreational and fashionable), books, gifts, toys, hobbies, food, art, wine, candy, kitchen supplies, and more. Really, it has everything a mall has and much more if you count the beautiful Main Street, historic buildings, friendly people, and fantastic food (versus something fried and sitting under a warming lamp).
Some of the attractions on Main Street include Inland Octopus Toy Store (trust me; there is a toy in there for everyone no matter how old or young). The gift shop Romanza has plenty of knick-knacks and some really funny cards. There are numerous wineries, places to eat, and a few delis. The Book and Game Company has a great selection of books and also carries many board games, role playing games, or card games. Even if you need a place to sit and relax there is the seating area at Main and 1st that often has music or other events. Or just a few blocks East on Main, there is an ideal picnic spot at Heritage Square Park.
Which leads to another thing Walla Walla is doing very well; more development of parks, walkways, and bike lanes. For a town just over 30,000 people we have 18 parks and over 600 acres of recreation area. The city has done well trying to grow itself before growing any of the industries that already thrive here. The few buildings downtown that needed some tender love and care have been getting it. With the local businesses’ and communities’ help there is no reason Walla Walla can’t grow while still keeping the small town charm. We are a small town much like St. Helena near Napa used to be. However, we are not doomed to the posh designer clothing stores and $35+ a plate restaurants. Many of the higher end businesses in St. Helena could not last in Walla Walla; as we don’t have the population base necessary to keep those businesses open. In smaller out-of-the-way cities, many of those big ideas are not feasible unless there is a bottomless budget to either import or export said product and to reach outside customers. I for one would like to see more businesses that rely on and cater to the local community. And in this current economy does it not seem like the best action anyway? There’s not going to be any big plan or major renovation that is going to fix anything fast. So why not start local and do something that benefits you and your neighbor – instead of trying to benefit yourself so much that your neighbor gets hung out to dry.