We've all noticed some pretty dramatic changes in Historic Downtown Chilliwack these days! For those of you that grew up here, this new hustle and bustle downtown is likely bringing back exciting childhood memories of shopping, dining and running errands along Wellington, Yale, Main, or Mill Streets in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, and even earlier for some.
If you remember these good old days, you have certainly been a part of some interesting cultural shifts that have contributed to both the rise and fall of "Main Street" and now the hopeful reinvention of downtown that we are seeing now!
It is easy to piece together why Chilliwack's historic downtown has struggled to survive over the last 50 years. It is the same story that has played out in towns large and small all over Canada. Simply put, starting in the mid 1970s, newly built shopping malls became our new Main Streets... places where young and old alike could find all the things they needed (and didn't need) and where we dined, met up with friends and were entertained. The mall became our new Public Square, and urban planning and development quickly followed the trend, leaving historic areas in various states of neglect and abandonment.
Every boom however, must have a bust, and malls are no exception. Since around 2005, malls have been experiencing a mass exodus of customers, and have been struggling to find ways to remain relevant. Large anchor department stores and franchises are disappearing rapidly. The rise of online shopping, and the financial recession of 2008 led to a huge drop in sales and foot traffic.
It also turns out that younger people are not as interested in spending their leisure time inside! Added to this is our greater sense of environmental responsibility which is contributing to many consumers wanting more meaningful shopping experiences that are mixed with "non-commercial" social interactions. To top it all off, consumers are craving more personalized service that has been lacking in the age of Malls and Big Box shopping.
What all these cultural shifts mean for us in 2022, is that historic shopping districts like Downtown Chilliwack are perfectly positioned for revitalization, and are suited to meet the needs of the evolving consumer, and it's happening fast! Our old neglected heritage buildings are receiving some long-awaited love and attention. Streets, windows and walls are being cleaned and painted... greenery is being tended to. Old alleyways are being artfully transformed and tourists are arriving. New restaurants, bars, and clothing stores are popping up beside cafes and boutique shops. Patios are full on sunny days. Businesses that have been surviving downtown are seeing new customers and experiencing growth. Investment is returning. Vacant spaces are quickly filling up with entrepreneurs and fresh energy. It sure was a long time coming but it looks like what's old is truly new again in Downtown Chilliwack!