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Only as strong as its core

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Main Street is vitally important to the health of Salt Lake City.

The choice is not between Main Street and somewhere else. The city can be only as healthy as its core.

Main Street is the city's showcase. Historically, it has been the center of commerce, a natural place to shop and to feel a part of the urban experience. But it is much more than that. Main Street is the city's signature. Its health reflects on the health of the community at-large, and its health is directly related to the vitality of its retail shopping.

A number of Main Street merchants have felt picked on in recent years as construction work on I-15 and light rail made the area difficult, if not impossible, to reach. Both projects, of course, were designed in part to make Main Street more accessible than ever, and those promises will eventually come true. Already, light rail is bringing thousands of people to the street.

But the promises were little comfort to retailers who had to make ends meet during long months when few people could reach them. Their complaints were not without merit. Shoppers, like water, flow to the paths of least resistance. When construction causes one merchant to lose, it inevitably causes another to gain. But when a Main Street merchant suffers to the point of having to go out of business, the loss is particularly hard on the city. In the heat of political battles, those realities can become lost.

Earlier this year, consultants studied the city and concluded downtown needed, and could support, three times as much retail as it currently does, based on the 4 million annual visitors to Temple Square and the 155,000 convention delegates that came to the Salt Palace Convention Center in 1999. A strong mix of national and local retailers, complete with restaurants with outdoor seating and kiosks, could turn the street and its surrounding area into much more of an enjoyable experience.

The city has a bit of a way to go to reach that goal, but it is one the city can't afford to ignore. None of this, of course, precludes retail elsewhere in the city, but the city must not lose site of how vital its center is to the health of the rest of it.