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TOWNSFOLK FIGHT TO KEEP MAIN STREET `DULL'

Sinclair Lewis lambasted his hometown as shallow, dull and not worth living in, but now townspeople say they'll do whatever they can to preserve the Main Street the novelist made famous in 1920.

"To lose the character of Main Street is something we cannot allow," said Al Tingley, a member of the Main Street Preservation Committee and co-owner of the Palmer House Hotel.The state Transportation Department has proposed a $1.75 million project to widen the road through downtown beginning in 1993 to reduce accidents and accommodate heavier trucks. The town of 3,700 is about 95 miles from Minneapolis.

Opponents say Main Street's business would plummet and the character of Lewis' hometown would be lost. Sidewalks would be narrowed, trees would be cut down and parking would be so limited tourists won't bother stopping, they say.

Townspeople were not always so fond of the attention Lewis brought the town with his novel "Main Street," which lambasted fictional Gopher Prairie, Minn., a thinly disguised version of this town where Lewis was born in 1885.

Lewis railed against "the incredible dullness of it" and "it's vacuousness and bad manners and spiteful gossip."

Among his other novels are "Babbitt," "Elmer Gantry" and "Arrowsmith." In 1926, he rejected the Pulitzer Prize for "Arrowsmith."

Four years later he became the first American to win the Nobel Prize in literature. He died in 1951.