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Of Hometowns and Shit Holes

February 20, 2012
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Now Main Street’s whitewashed windows and vacant stores
Seems like there ain’t nobody wants to come down here no more
They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks
Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back to your hometown
Your hometown
Your hometown
Your hometown

— Bruce Springsteen, My Hometown

I don’t know exactly when my hometown turned into a shit hole, but things in Ardsley, New York certainly aren’t what they used to be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like people are dealing crack on the corners or stabbing each other on the streets, but Ardsley has fallen on harder times than many of the neighboring towns in the area where I grew up.

If I have to guess as to what’s caused Ardsley’s problems, I’d say it’s mostly due to poor planning and the lack of a cohesive downtown area.

Ardsley isn’t a big town. It’s a village, really, measuring about one-square mile. Growing up, it was the picture of the (near) perfect small town. Lots of small, independent businesses run by families who lived within a mile or two of where they worked. A Rexall pharmacy. A Big Top novelties store. A Sunnydale Farms convenience store. A shoe store, a couple of pizza places, a couple of local garages, a flower shop, a diner, a couple of local bars. It could have been any small town in America.

Nowadays, you can get all (or most) of the same goods and services you used to find, but the town has lost its soul. The Mom & Pop stores have all been pushed out by big chains stores. The shops that haven’t been completely replaced sit vacant, along with an abandoned gas station, and a rundown string of shops in the square. The place feels like it’s dying from a slow, painful disease.

Ardsley's Clock

The thing is, there’s no reason Ardsley should be in this kind of shape. Located about 20 miles North of Manhattan, it’s still a popular commuter town with folks who work in the city. We’ve got good highway access and are close to three different Metro North stations that can get you from here to Grand Central in about 40 minutes.

What’s more, it’s not like this is a poor part of the country. The median cost for a house in Ardsley is about $500,000 and most people who live in the area have plenty of disposable income to spend. We even have a celebrity living in town, if you call Funk Master Flex a celebrity. (Other “celebrities” with Ardsley connections include Tom Carvel, Peter Riegert, Alan Alda, and Mark Zuckerberg, though none of them live here anymore.)

Driving around the area, I’ve noticed that neighboring towns like Dobbs Ferry, Scarsdale, and Hartsdale all appear to be in much better shape than Ardsley, and I think I know the reason why. Unlike Ardsley, these towns all have real main streets or shopping districts filled with interesting stores. They encourage people to leave their cars, walk around and, ultimately, spend money.

Ardsley has Addyman Square, a small collection of uninteresting shops and cheap takeout restaurants that no one wants to go out of their way to visit. And, even if someone does want to purchase something in the square, it’s almost impossible to park there. What’s more, Ardsley’s main street is Saw Mill River Road, a busy, unattractive artery that does little more than link commuters with the New York State Thruway and the Saw Mill River Parkway, both of which have exits located within a few hundred yards of “downtown.” There nowhere worth walking to on Saw Mill River Road and no reason to walk even if you wanted to.

It’s obvious that Ardsley can be so much more than it currently is and the thing I don’t understand is why the residents and taxpayers don’t do more improve things. Sure, revitalizing a town isn’t easy or cheap, but the thing is, any money that’s spent on rehabbing the village now will be returned with interest if town officials encourage new, unique business to open their doors. Give people a reason to shop in Ardsley – and create a shopper friendly environment for them to do it in – and they’ll show up. Dobbs Ferry, Hartsdale, and Scarsdale have all proved this to be true. There’s no reason Ardsley can’t do the same thing.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. February 20, 2012 6:32 pm

    Interesting story and I can definitely see things like this happening to a lot of “small towns” all over the country.

    It’s a sad state of affairs when almost everything is being taken over by corporations who do the same thing but with less love, heart and feeling.

    The soul is being sucked out of American life by the Wal-Mart’s and the Home Depot’s who drive small business out of every town and force former owners to find a job working for a big corporation just to survive.

    Good read!

  2. February 20, 2012 10:53 pm

    I’m always saddened by stories of towns that have lost their local business culture. In some towns, the core is taken over by upscale chains, while in others, the buildings are just shuttered; the result, though, is usually a community where everyone drives to a neighboring town to shop (and that town is hailed as a modern planning success because it has a Whole Foods and maybe a Trader Joe’s).

  3. February 21, 2012 6:13 am

    Yes, big box is always cited. The fact is that we (shoppers) voted with our feet. We are cheaper than we can prove smarter.

    Having done site evaluations, I wouldn’t touch your downtown with a x-foot pole. You did a fair job of detailing why.

  4. Marc permalink
    February 23, 2012 9:18 am

    Alan Alda? What’s his connection?

  5. katkin permalink*
    February 23, 2012 9:37 am

    He lived on the Dobbs side of the bridge as a kid. He went to Stepinac instead of Ardsley schools.

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