The path to bring life to the main street of a North Country town

A stretch of downtown Brasher Falls, NY. On the west bank of the St. Regis River, a mix of old and new businesses is helping to revitalize the village’s main street. Photo: Todd Moe

For decades, the city center or main street used to be your commercial and shopping center. It was not uncommon for small towns to have a couple of supermarkets, clothing stores, and several restaurants.

But declining populations, unemployment and big box stores replacing mom-and-pop businesses mean some of these communities have to imagine a new future for their urban centers.

As part of an ongoing series, we’ll be visiting some of these historic main streets to speak with the people working to improve their communities. Todd Moe begins in Brasher Falls, in St. Lawrence County.

todd moeThe path to bring life to the main street of a North Country town

Connie Pike, whose family roots in Brasher Falls go back many generations, owns "downtown spirits", a liquor store on Main Street.  Photo: Todd Moe

Connie Pike, whose family roots in Brasher Falls go back many generations, owns “Spirits of Downtown,” a liquor store on Main Street. Photo: Todd Moe

“It’s nice to see Brasher Falls come alive again.” – connie pike

Brasher Falls is the largest hamlet in the City of Brasher and is located on the west bank of the St. Regis River. The 2010 census lists 669 residents. It is in an area called “Tri-town” that includes the cities of Lawrence and Stockholm, and near the border with Franklin County. Historically, the iron industry played an important role in its founding, initially mining and smelting, but later the production of stoves. The town’s West Main Street is topped by the historic Octagon House, built in the 1850s, and Veteran’s Park with a decommissioned military plane along the St. Regis. Not much remains of his iron heritage.

“Every town needs a library. Every town.” – tina hartigan

Principal Tina Hartigan places books on the bookshelf in the Badenhausen Reading Room on Brasher's Main Street.  It has been converted into a community center.  Photo: Todd Moe

Principal Tina Hartigan places books on the bookshelf in the Badenhausen Reading Room on Brasher’s Main Street. It has been converted into a community center. Photo: Todd Moe

A view of Veteran's Park along the west bank of the St. Regis River in Brasher Falls.  Photo: Todd Moe

A view of Veteran’s Park along the west bank of the St. Regis River in Brasher Falls. Photo: Todd Moe

Today, the street includes a small grocery store, clinic, hair salon, post office, reading room, restaurant, and liquor store. Connie Pike has owned “Spirits of Downtown” for about 16 years. She began leasing the space in 2006, when she began refurbishing the commercial block. “I was one of the originals that started renting. I’m still here, and it’s nice to see Brasher Falls come alive again,” says Ella Pike. Her family history goes back generations. “My family and I are very proud of this community and giving back to our community,” she adds.

The historic Octagon House, near the west end of Main Street in Brasher Falls, was built in the 1850s. Photo: Todd Moe<br \/>” class=”lazy” src=”https://www.northcountrypublicradio.org/news/images/brasherpic3.jpg” data-loading=”https://www.northcountrypublicradio.org/news/images/loading/brasherpic3. jpg”/></p>
<p>The historic Octagon House, near the west end of Main Street in Brasher Falls, was built in the 1850s. Photo: Todd Moe</p>
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<p>Adjacent to “Spirits of Downtown” is the former Badenhausen Library, now a “reading room”.  Last year, Massena Library administrators said they had no choice but to close the library due to lack of funds.  But a group of local volunteers reopened it this year with its own Board of Directors and Principal Tina Hartigan.  She grew up in Brasher Falls and has always loved books.  The space is now a community center for children and adults.  Hartigan says her proudest moment so far was when more than 75 young people attended a reading event last summer.  “Every town needs a library. Every town,” she says.</p>
<div style=Elaina Rumble and her son Joe Metts are originally from the Buffalo area and opened Elaina's Bakery and Diner this fall.  Photo: Todd Moe

Elaina Rumble and her son Joe Metts are originally from the Buffalo area and opened Elaina’s Bakery and Diner this fall. Photo: Todd Moe

Sometimes newcomers can also bring a new perspective. Elaina Rumble and her son Joe Metts are originally from the Buffalo area and opened Elaina’s Bakery and Diner this fall. “She just fell into our lap,” Elaina says. On the Sunday of his first week in business, Joe says all the tables were full for breakfast and lunch. “They love having someone here. So I think it’s going to work out well.”

Elaina and Joe say they’d like to offer a dinner menu eventually, and Tina in the library says she has ideas for projects and events this winter and next summer. The residents of the center are excited about the opportunities the village has, thanks to all the hard work thus far.

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