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Love a Good, Old-Fashioned Downtown? Try Greenfield, Massachusetts

Downtown Greenfield MA
Downtown Greenfield, Massachusetts.

by Eric Hurwitz. Updated 12/07/16.

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Take downtown Greenfield, Mass., apply it to the 1950s, and the community would look like many other towns. Compare Greenfield to downtown districts today, and it has something that virtually no other town offers.

An independent movie theater and book, furniture and music stores (used record and instruments, respectively), barber and tailor shops, and a Saturday farmers market certainly tip the unique downtown look in the right direction, but what really sets apart this small city of 17,000 residents from virtually any community in the United States is the presence of a full service department store. Wilson's, right in the heart of the increasingly vibrant downtown, will take you back to another place and time -- a family-owned and operated business dating back to the 1880s with 20 departments on four floors. From mens and womens clothing departments to toys and a candy counter, for starters, Wilson's combines a nostalgic feeling with modern day retail practicality.

Wilson's Deprtment Store, downtown Greenfield MAWilson's Deprtment Store, in the heart of the downtown district, is one of only a handful of family-owned department stores left in America, Wilson's will warm your heart as an American retail treasure that not only focuses on a terrific variety of merchandise, but also pride of ownership and wonderful customer service that you just don't see much of anymore in today's rather lethargic world of hired retial help. You could complete all your Christmas shopping here, and also see Santa (as well as the Easter Bunny in the spring) along the way -- and feel wonderful about th whole experience. Free parking, lack of a hectic mall scene, and the presence of a wholesome, friendly retail personality certainly help the cause.

After leaving Wilson's and walking the wide Main Street, I did see a city that is not bereft of modern day problems -- some homeless people and others it would be safe to say that have drug issues -- but the 1950s side of this community proved, thankfully, more dominant. A dad and his kids enthusiastically went from store to store raising money for their Boy Scout troops. There was this little kid in a space helmet walking with his mom to do some shopping. The Farmers Market brought people together for some healthy foods and conversations. Ten people in my 20 minute walk initiated a "hello."

There's an innate community spirit here, where conservatives, liberals, money makers and the impoverished seem to peacefully co-exist -- located in a pleasant semi-mountain town setting where it's a joy to see all the shops, restaurants, churches and grand old homes and municipal buildings from one side to another. As a community, they have even kept Walmart out of town, thus helping its downtown remain alive and well.

Downtown Greenfield MA -old buildings, Farmers Market

Farmers Market at the town common in Greenfield.

Sitting at a window seat over an amazing bowl of smoked chicken chili at the Peoples' Pint restaurant and brewery at 21 Federal St. (part of the impressively growing Greenfield restaurant scene), I saw the pulse of essentially a small town walk by, give hugs and thanks, and patronize myriad small businesses along the way. It was an incredible feeling, knowing this type of downtown still exists.

Downtown Greenfield MA movie theater

Garden Movie Theater, downtown Greenfield.

On the way out of Greenfield, I stopped at Poet's Seat Tower overlooking Greenfield, Franklin County and the Connecticut, Deerfield and Green River Valleys. The incredible views offered a greater appreciation of the day.

Poet's Seat Tower, Greenfield MA
Poet's Seat, Greenfield.

To see all the cute, little neighborhoods, and that downtown development put to good use -- juxtaposed with natural surroundings as good as it gets in New England -- definitely has inspired a return visit to explore more of what the city and region have to offer. But first, once again, I think I'll start with Wilson's!

Wilson's Department Store, Greenfield MA

Entering Wilson's Department Store in Greenfield.

Wilson's Department Store is located at 258 Main Street (Tel. 413-774-4326) and Poet's Seat on Mountain Rd., off Route 2A

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