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I Wish It Was Livelier

a newcomer`s one-sentence summary of downtown

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Ryan Carpentier

So I was hanging out at a barbecue eating grilled meat – as I often do. It’s kind of my thing. Anyhoo, I was chatting with a recent transplant to the Chippewa Valley when downtown Eau Claire came up. He and his wife had just seen a movie at the Cameo Budget, and then they had taken a stroll down Barstow to check things out. She had gone to college here, but hadn’t been back in a while. This was his first time downtown.

At one point he remarked, “Downtown’s nice, but I wish it was ... livelier.” And suddenly, from across the city of Eau Claire, thousands of citizens gasped in unison. And then came a colossal chorus of muttering, as if everyone in the surrounding neighborhood had fired up their riding lawnmowers all at the same time. Within the multitude of voices I could make out certain phrases, like You need to got there more often, and Haven’t you been to the farmers market? and You should have seen it five years ago, man, and Go to Phoenix Park on a Thursday night, Bucko.

We spirited him into the basement as packs of annoyed downtown supporters formed in the street (holding yard tools) peeking over hedges and searching for whoever the hell said that.

But hey, the guy was right. Spot on, in fact. For all of the good in the downtown area, for all of the hard-working business owners, for all of the new development and city programs – and despite the invincible spectacle of geography that is Phoenix Park – downtown still seems a little flat. Sure, there are certain areas and certain establishments that are positively bangin’ with life, but you kind of need to hit those spots at the right time. And how’s a newcomer to know where to go, let alone when?

As usual, it takes an outside perspective to see how things really are. Downtown still has ground to cover.

I need to be careful here. What if I say the wrong thing, and then you, the noble reader decides that downtown is not worth the trip? What if my amazingly crafted sentences somehow accidentally convince you that the heart of the city is totally lame? I’m not real worried about that. I’ll just go ahead and assume that you’re not a five-year-old and can catch my drift.