Country, small towns are in trouble as Main...


November 05, 1990

ALL OVER THE country, small towns are in trouble as Main Street dies and business shifts to malls and motels on the outskirts.

Only the most daring and visionary of entrepreneurs will try to take over an old landmark and restore it to its former glory, thus spurring a Main Street revival.

Frostburg in Western Maryland is the scene of such an experiment. On New Year's Day, 1897, when the town was thriving, a truly grand hotel opened its doors. It was called the Gladstone, and while it was named after the son-in-law of the owner, its prime ministerial moniker was in keeping with the decor.

A brochure tells us that "guests were attended by bellboys in brown uniforms with smoked pearl buttons and a chef from New York." There were tennis courts, a petting farm with a tame fawn, a game cock arena, restaurants and bars and a basement jail for prisoners in transit while their guards slept upstairs.

Renamed the Hotel Gunter in later years after a new owner, the hotel gradually fell upon hard times after its Prohibition heydays. It became a firetrap hostelry -- a big red-brick hulk -- for down-and-outers and for some Frostburg State students, whose parents probably didn't know where they were living.

Four years ago, the old hotel got some new owners -- the Failinger family -- who began a painstaking, expensive renovation that is not over yet.

The grand staircase had to be scraped down to its original lustrous oaken glory. Upstairs, tiny decrepit rooms gave way to modern rooms with a Victorian motif. The fourth floor is still gutted as the owners determine whether to turn it into apartments or if there is enough trade for more hotel rooms. Someday there will be a fifth floor observatory for views of the mountain scenery.

Oh yes, the prices. Rooms go for about $60 a night, mostly to weekend tourists. And the "Gladstone Breakfast" served in the dining room offers two eggs, two strips of bacon, two sausages, two pancakes and some home fries for $3.75.

* * *

A FORMER neighbor of ours is globe-trotting. In lieu of a postcard, he sent a little booklet from Moscow. It's titillatingly called "Sex anekdoty" -- which needs no translation -- and it was being peddled on Gorky Street for 3 rubles a copy, twice its listed price.

If this sample is anything to go by, Soviets will need quite a bit of help in the joke department. Most of the anecdotes in the book are definitely unfunny. An example:

Husband comes home tired late one night. "Where have you been?" asks his angry wife.

"What kind of dumbo am I married to? Can't you think of anything?" retorts the man.

After a joke like that, we know why perestroika is in trouble.

We are eagerly waiting for our neighbor to hit Paris. No more booklets, please, just a postcard.

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