Confehr: Bygone times of the square recalled

Friday, January 21, 2011

Folks are rightly curious about where things were around the square here in Lewisburg.

Over lunch between interviews with applicants for the city manager's job, Mayor Barbara Woods recalled the days when she worked in a pharmacy on the square.

The boss would go back and confer with certain clients and then, when a customer came in, she'd have to fill the order, she said.

Those were the days before H&S Pharmacy.

They were when one fellow would have a glass of chocolate milk every day and another would order another beverage with no ice so he'd get a greater volume.

Times have changed, but these landmarks remain, and some buildings -- or where they used to be -- are reference points like a compass heading in time that's good for those who remember. Many are happy to fill in the details.

What's happened to the public square here became the topic of several job interviews conducted by Lewisburg councilmen with the nine applicants during the last few weeks.

There's a recognition that the square won't return to what it had been. It was the crossroads of commerce in Marshall County. It's been like that in other county seats.

The reason here is North and South Ellington Parkway. The square has gone to the bypass. That five-lane road - set for widening from Commerce to the college - is now effectively "Main Street" in Lewisburg.

No big surprise to our neighbors, but the insight offered by one of the applicants is a telling tale of economic decline in a West Tennessee town.

They lost their Wal-Mart.

It's not that they don't know where it was.

It closed.

Just when the councilmen were telling applicants for city manager that Marshall County's unemployment rate is 16.2 percent now - not to mention that it's been highest or second highest for months - we hear from someone who's managed a town where the economy is so bad that the big box store closed.

Now, maybe it moved out of the jurisdiction where city sales taxes are charged, but even then, that's a blow to the town budget.

During the 1980s when I was writing news in Winchester, Tenn., the city manager there told me that the sales tax revenue from Wal-Mart on what's now Dinah Shore Boulevard was greater than the sales tax revenue from all the businesses around the courthouse square plus some of the side streets with businesses. That was back when car loans were 19-20 percent.

There's already something of a history surrounding the biggest retailer in the nation. There's the old Wal-Mart location, and the old-old Wal-Mart location. Some folks remember working in all three.

And just as folks remember who drank what at the counter and in the back room of the various shoppes around the Lewisburg Square, it's just as likely that they'll remember the things they talked about, saw and realized in the bypass stores.

Some day, these will be the bygone times to recall.

These views are the author's and not necessarily reflective of the Tribune's views.