An Artist’s Notes: Mill Street

Eileen Hennemann

It’s not Main Street, it’s Mill Street.

Main Street is up between Mary and Martin Streets. But Mill Street is our downtown main street. If I’m confused what are folk from away thinking!

Once on Mill Street there is no doubt about its main role in our small town. It’s chock-a-block full of wondrous, peculiar, stylish, delightful and smart places to shop and dine. But it wasn’t always like this.

By the 80s all of the mills had closed and folk had less and less money to spend. The Big City enticed them to their big box stores and malls, and our downtown slowly became a ghost town with stores shrinking and then closing their doors forever.

Stores on the main street were once our lifeblood. We had a grocery store at the bottom of the hill, a bike shop, two shoe stores and two hardware stores, three pharmacies, several eateries, gift shops and more. The bike shop was where Mill Street Books is now, the grocery store where Heritage Court is, Allan’s grandfather had Tosh’s restaurant and before that time Alf Stanley could be seen on the street delivering coal and collecting the garbage. Little Al briefly lived where the Tin Barn is today. Baker Bob’s was the Hillside Grill and you could hear the clackety-clack of the printing presses in the Almonte Gazette where the White Owl is today. The pool hall was where Subway is, a garage was next door and Stan Morton’s variety store was across the street. And imagine – in earlier times the Bell Telephone exchange office was in a section of Alliance Coin & Banknote. Can’t you just see Lily Tomlin answering at the switchboard!

I look back now and must admit how sad and impersonal the Big-Box-Store shopping experience was, and often still is. On our main street I can have a chat with the store owner as it’s usually them behind the counter. They appreciate my time and visit and hope to serve me well.

In the 90s several visionaries explored the potential of our historical buildings and heritage and with their passion and thoughtful renovations slowly breathed life back into several buildings on Mill Street. Look at it now with eclectic condos and fancy balconies, and our beautiful heritage buildings having starring roles in several movies.

I am grateful for those visionaries who understand the value of our past and to those who support our local merchants. We once again have stores that sell shoes, and bike shops (just a few minutes walk away), clothing, book, gift and antique stores, several restaurants and a butcher shop (not one here for over 65 years!).  We have a custom floral shop, a commercial gallery exhibiting the work of highly skilled, innovative artists as well as a contemporary gallery promoting Canadian fine art and sculpture. I could go on and on.

Visitors and tourists come to stroll and experience the relaxing atmosphere and charm of our main street. More and more locals are part of that stream of shoppers and walkers, often stopping to catch up with someone they’ve just bumped in to.

The rejuvenation we’ve seen over the past 20 plus years shows how we are changing back to the days of connecting with our local merchants. We know who they are and we smile hello on the street. They offer unique items and standard necessities. They support our causes. I, probably one of many, respect their hard work and really feel good about supporting our town’s businesses, and its approach to its main street heritage.

Now I just need them to change the street name.

Eileen Hennemann | ekhennemann.com | thetencollective.com

Painting 6”x 6” Acrylic on Hardboard