Downtown Stevens Point Did Not Have To End This Way

The news today concerning downtown Stevens Point may seem good to some people.  But for those that recall what it once was like to walk that downtown street, well, we know the truth.  

I will get to the news that broke today, but first let us take a walk backwards in time.

When I was a boy many….perhaps most….Saturdays were spent in Stevens Point.  That was the place my folks drove to buy groceries, clothes, shoes, and just about anything else we needed.   My grandma called it ‘the ‘Points’, but no matter what it was termed this was the nearest real shopping experience to where I grew up.

I recall how we bustled around and left our Hancock home about 10:00 A.M. and spent the better part of Saturday in the city.  My mom looked forward to ‘getting out of the house’ and into the stores to browse.  As a boy that concept was totally lost on me.  How could anyone be amused by looking at bolts of fabric?  But by the time my mid teenage years hit I fully understood the tug of  browsing, and found wandering around music and book stores great fun.   

Downtown Stevens Point was the place I would sit in the car at times with dad, in this or that parking lot, and listen to the car radio.  It was there at noon we often heard Paul Harvey.  We always waited for the last story that Harvey delivered and then his classic “Good Day!”

In my mind I  can still see the lot across where J C Penney once was, or the side street where my dad would parallel park not far from Montgomery Ward.  He often would look for that location as it was shady during the summer and make the wait more relaxing.  My dad was never a ‘browser’ but instead would read the newspaper or mail that he needed to get caught up with from the week.  Dad often chatted it up with other men in nearby cars that seemed to have the same Saturday occupation as he did.

Main Street was full of wonders when I was old enough to start wandering on my own. It was alive, vibrant, and exciting.   My parents thought it too exciting at the far end where a bevy of bars were located and I was instructed to stay away from that area.  (Like they were going to serve a 16-year old kid?)

So it was not surprising given the wonder of the main street that the local businesses were not gleeful when the idea of a mall soon was all the rage.  I recall that one of the big reasons for such an idea was all the shopping could take place ‘out of the elements’.  Who did not like darting raindrops or seeing the sun as they went from store to store?  I liked the way one went from store to store.  At holiday time many of the stores pumped music out into the streets and the whole place was just like an old-fashioned Christmas Card.

In time the mall was built, and large stores moved in for the dollars that would soon start to flow.  It never quite was the same for the downtown businesses that made main street so wonderful.  The unique quality of the street and the energy from it faded.  Meanwhile the mall was stale and boring from the first day it opened.

Downtown was never the same.

Today comes word that a large portion of the mall will be destroyed.  Long underused, and in foreclosure  it will be repurposed for the Mid-States Technical College.


There will never be another kid living in that area that will be able to reflect back on downtown Stevens Point like I have here tonight.  That is because someone thought the idea of a mall  being bigger, newer, and better was the answer to everything.

Looks like with a technical school there will be more fast food joints and larger trash bins for the future of this once really interesting street.  A street where there once was a store that I loved to go inside with my mom as the wood floors squeaked under me.  (Montgomery Ward)   As a boy I thought that was just pretty neat.

No one will ever again write of nostalgic thoughts about downtown Steven Point.

6 thoughts on “Downtown Stevens Point Did Not Have To End This Way

  1. I don’t have the long history of familiarity of the area that you do, being a Johnny Come Lately of only ten years or so. Even then, the mall was an eyesore and did not blend in well with the rest of the area. I am slightly surprised that it lasted as long as it did.

    Unfortunately, the sprawl has now started to blight the region. Every time I visit Point now, it seems that the fast food restaurants and small strip mall stores are taking up more and more of Hwy 10. Furthermore, Plover has become a haven for the big box stores, which might seem nice now, but will be a real pain when these dinosaurs eventually die off as well.

  2. Gordy

    While I agree with you on many points, I do have to say that it was a democratically controlled mayoral office that initiated the mall and is now initiating this redevelopment. Not picking, but it’s just a fact. It was a decisive issue in the 80s in a mayoral election and will now be again in 2011.

    In the early 80s when malls were popping up all over, this was the thing to do. Stevens Point is not the only place with this problem — the same can be seen in Wis. Rapids (Rapids Mall and Shopko Mall), Brown Deer (North Ridge Mall), Plover (Manufacturer’s Direct Mall), and many, many more. While large cities like Madison, Milwaukee, La Crosse, and Wausau are able to keep a mall going, a small town can’t.

    Also, Walmart is a HUGE factor here. When Walmart when into Stevens Point, the mall died. When Walmart moved from the Rapids Mall, the mall died. When Walmart moved into Brown Deer, the mall died. Do you see a trend here?

    It may be nice to go shop at the Mom and Pop places, but if Mom and Pop can’t match the price, they are going to go belly up. Sad but true. I’m sure that you shop there. Who doesn’t? The nostalgic world you speak of from the 70s is not the world we live in. And someday our kids will look back on the 2000s and be waxing about Walmart. We live in a world were change is progressive.

  3. Mark Olinger

    Great piece on the effects of the ‘development du jour’ on cities and their vitality. Yes, the realities of the market so markedly different than they were 25 or more years ago (my hometown’s downtown was incredibly vibrant in the late 1960s and early 1970s). However, chasing after the next big thing may not save that which we love. In fact, downtowns are so radically different now than they were when we were growing up that I’m not sure how many “fond remembrances” will be possible.

    What I do know is this:

    1. Streets want to be streets and interrupting the flow of people, vehicles, bikes, transit, etc., can really hurt the overall dynamic of a place.

    2. Downtowns were once communal gathering spots for retail, office work, etc. And there was a much broader array of goods and services available to a broader percentage of the community; there were often stores and other services that catered to households/families of “high,” “middle,” and “lower” means. There are many downtowns today,in both larger and smaller cities, where it’s relatively easy to find high-end retail and stores/services that serve he needs of lower-income families…yet the “middle” has largely abandoned the downtown. I think that’s one of saddest, yet unreported aspects of urbanity today…the loss of the middle.

    Maybe someone out there reading your post will figure it out…and in 50 years…es, we will be able to read the story of how they felt about their downtown.

  4. Anthony

    As a Stevens Point native fascinated with history, I often imagen being in your old shoes. I wish Stevens Point would fallow Wausau in the renovation of downtown. The old days may be long gown, but preserving the old feel with a fresh look and modren business would be a wonderful way to go.

  5. Sara Marie Flame

    There has been a resurgence of some sort in downtown Stevens Point. I am painfully reminded though of what happened to Ripon, WI. Their city elected officials allowed on developer, Boca Grande, do “redevelop” downtown. 5 years later they went bankrupt and left the downtown in worse condition than it was when they took over. America needs to refocus energy and tax dollars to setting up sustainable ecosystems in their downtown areas!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s