2007-06-16 / Editorials

Let's Not Lose Focus of What Appeals to Visitors

To the Editor:

I am writing this letter to express my enthusiasm for an event that, at first glance, may seem ordinary or trifle. However, I, as a native-born Mackinac Island resident, do not view it as such. The event in question is the recent reopening of the new Doud's Market on Mackinac Island. I hope that this event will not go unnoticed by our great community. I can only hope that our community will support Mr. Doud, and any others like him, in their endeavors to maintain a small-town atmosphere here on Mackinac. The opening of Doud's Market signals a step in the right direction for the growth of our small community. I truly believe that, in the recent past, the direction of growth on Mackinac has been headed in an irreversible direction of lost customer appeal. By customer appeal, I mean as it applies to the perception of Mackinac when our "everyday" summertime tourists are concerned.

Much of Mackinac's success can be attributed to the "old world charm" it once possessed. This charm is what separated us from all the rest. In a long running period of encroaching mass development and the introduction of megacorporate franchises on Main Street, I believe our community leaders have lost focus of what really appeals to the people who visit our tiny island. No longer can a typical family of four head north and escape to a quaint Victorian community that has been lost "Somewhere in Time." Instead, our visitors are welcomed to an island that has been transformed into a miniaturized subdivision of condominiums and housing developments. While these buildings may be good for the businessmen in the short run, what will become of them when the tourists, who provide the Island's sole industry, stop coming? Fortunately, we still have the Island's horses and venerable Fort Mackinac. Let us pray that these never disap- special place. More of them will want to come back.

Mackinac Island's law against private motor vehicles is a great opportunity to create and protect a visual world that is totally different from the one people see when they drive up and down old U.S. Route 66. If a driver (with his wallet) is in a car, the best way to get him, his wallet, and his credit cards out of the car and into the parking lot is to set up a huge, lighted plastic sign. The sign will be shaped and colored exactly the same way as are all of the other signs advertising other identical versions of the same store from Maine to California.

On Mackinac Island, by contrast, no one is in a car, most of the shoppers are on foot, and the best way to get people to stop and buy something is by displaying a sample of the shop's goods in the shop window. This is, of course, how every store in the United States used to display itself to the public. Increasingly, only on Mackinac Island's Main Street and Market Street can visitors enjoy the lost art of windowshopping.

The "cultural landscape" of U.S. Route 66 is endangered, as the World Monuments Fund reports; this is a fancy way to say that people who drive up and down this busy roadway have learned a new method that tells them how to enjoy life and buy things. US-66 stretches through two-thirds of the American continent: the new visual environment of this highway is a "cultural landscape," too. It is the standardized appearance of the American suburbs from Chicago to Los Angeles, the metropolitan areas where well more than half of the American people (and much more than half of the people who travel to Mackinac Island) live.

Many of us who live on Mackinac Island for all or part of the year know what this standardized suburban lifestyle and "cultural landscape" is about. Many of us know how to live in it, many of us who are businesspeople know a bit about how it works, and many of us want to learn as much as we can about it so that we can keep it off Mackinac Island. This may even include some of us who enjoy, and appreciate, this modern, standardized, suburban American cultural landscape in other parts of our lives. It is precisely because we appreciate this landscape so much in other places, that we don't want it here. We can sense, in our bones, how powerful it is.

Mackinac Island is a relatively unusual community, and we can protect ourselves by maintaining and increasing the ways in which we act as a community. When Islanders talk, they're constantly showing their concern about the future of Mackinac. This can, and will, continue. Everyone who has a stake in Mackinac Island - everyone who owns or operates a shop, everyone who owns a home or a piece of a home, everyone who works in one of our Island's relatively unusual or unique businesses - we all realize how much we have at stake in keeping our Island different, and not giving in to visual standardization. The temptation to surrender, and the rewards for standing firm, are likely to get greater as time goes by. Let's keep our eyes on these rewards.

Frank Straus Springfield, Illinois

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