Letter: City ought not let shops sit empty and rotting
Op-Ed · August 23, 2013

Recently I took a nostalgic cruise down the historic main drag of Nichols, my home town. I proceeded very slowly because it is a very short drag.

Nearly every old building or the sites where once they stood evoked a memory or two. None bears the burden of being listed on some federal list.

The old bank building lived on to serve other uses until it gave up about 25 years ago and collapsed to end the life of an occupant.

A new structure stands where once the barber shaved and clipped by day and sat near his big front window to read the evening paper by glow of a streetlight. The old structure outlived the barber, but when it went, it went with a bang. A member of the demolition crew poured gasoline on the collapsed remnants of the building, waited a while, then threw a burning pile of sticks on the rubble. The ensuing explosion shook the dust out of most rafters in town and put a lot of glaziers to work.

A low steel building now stands where once a two-story building anchored the corner of the block behind a monolithic block formed into a dozen or so concrete entrance steps. Fifty-some years ago, one of my best friends and two of my brothers-in-law tried to demolish those steps with their automobile. Only one brother-in-law survived to live a full life.

The two-story, filling station down/dance hall up, still stands at other end of the block. We danced there over the years until the structural integrity of the building came into question and then we danced there no more.

One of Nichols’ prime corner lots is now, and evidently forever will be, graced with a familiar eyesore — an abandoned Casey’s. I say familiar because these ugly cream-colored, throwaway, steel-sided, plywood-windowed structures can be seen in other towns. These hulks are usually surrounded by an expanse of cracked concrete from which sprout “No Trespassing” signs and various flora, all of which is most offensive to the eye. Suspicion exists that the soil under some of these sites is polluted with petroleum products, which if true, renders them unsaleable.

Often a sparkling new Casey’s can be found nearby. Evidently the local city fathers were so enamored with the prospect of a new Casey’s that they failed to ask what was to become of the old Casey’s.

West Branch just got rid of one abandoned filling station after 15-plus years. I would hope that West Branch’s city fathers (and mothers) will not allow Casey’s to create another. Absent a contractual obligation, Casey’s corporate conscience obviously feels no guilt in creating urban eyesores with their abandoned shacks. They are willing to suck profit out of a community and leave their trash to be hauled out by others.

Do not let them do it in West Branch. Force them leave a pollution-free, saleable bare lot when they close their downtown store.

Willard Salemink, West Branch

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