Parade should celebrate the past and future

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The Christmas parade that begins at 7 o’clock tonight will attract hundreds of people to downtown Washington, a place they might have little reason to visit at any other time. The bands, floats and marchers will come up West Chestnut Street and down North Main Street, where shops still in business are outnumbered by empty storefronts.


The parade will progress down South Main Street, where commerce is more evident, but the fact remains that on any day or night when there is no parade – that is, the other 363 or 364 days of the year – downtown sidewalks are lonely places.


Waynesburg, which faces its own challenges, will have its Christmas parade Saturday at 2 p.m.


It was back in the late 1960s that shoppers abandoned what once was a bustling downtown Washington for Kmart and the new Washington Mall, both in South Strabane Township, where everything to buy was in one place, surrounded by acres of free parking. Since then, Kmart is gone and the Washington Mall itself nearly abandoned, but other malls have taken their place, offering their customers every convenience, without any worry about where to park.


But there’s one thing those malls will never be able to take away from the city: the parade.


The very idea of high-school bands stepping in circles in a mall parking lot is ludicrous. But marching down the middle of the street, past walls of applauding humanity, that’s something special. That’s a parade.


Parades are as drenched in history and tradition as many of the old buildings they pass. In Washington, people have been marching in celebration down Main Street for nearly two centuries.


In October 1908, during its centennial celebration, daily parades were so lavish and large that they took as much as three hours to pass the reviewing stand, which was then on the steps of the courthouse, just as it will be tonight.


In those days, shops, restaurants, groceries, clothing and dry-goods stores were packed shoulder to shoulder on downtown streets.


Malls don’t have such history.


Neither does the Internet, where many people do their shopping these days.


Tonight, the chilly air will be pierced by the sirens and horns of fire trucks, and the deep bass notes from drums and Sousaphones will reverberate in the canyon formed by old brick buildings, hunkering in the dark behind the cheering crowds.


So much history resides within the walls of those structures, some of them built before and during the Civil War.


Behind the dark windows in their second and third floors, beneath their rusty tin-plate ceilings lurks the spirit of the past.


Bringing so many people to the streets at night can only approximate the teeming vitality that once was normal here. Those days are gone and may never return.


Rather than dwell on the state of downtown commerce as it is now, in both Washington and Waynesburg, we should take the opportunity of this parade to celebrate what it was in the past and imagine what it could be, should we someday be blessed with the leadership, prosperity and determination to revive it.


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