Come Back, McCrory's

September 05, 1992

Chestertown's McCrory's, one of the last of the old five-and-dimes, is gone, burned to the ground in a stubborn fire last Saturday. By mid-week, the smoke had cleared, and a huge pile of blackened rubble marked the place where the store had been. All day, people stopped across the street and stared, as if paying their respects.

The loss of this local landmark is a little tragedy in itself. What makes it especially sad is the impact McCrory's absence will have on the commercial center of this beautiful Eastern Shore village.

Like so many small towns, Chestertown has spent the last 15 years trying to save its downtown business section in the face of competition from shopping centers that keep springing up on the outskirts. McCrory's, which dates back to the 1920s and carried just about everything, was an anchor for downtown. In a shopping district that is moving toward touristy antique shops and boutiques, it was the only place in town where you could -- in for some staple or supply. The store was an unofficial meeting place, too, with a busy little restaurant where townsfolk would go for a good, inexpensive lunch and the latest chatter.

Without McCrory's to serve the community's basic retail needs, the rest of the shopping district could be in for some hard times. It takes a long while for a downtown area to become enough of a tourist attraction to rely exclusively on specialty shops; Chestertown is not ready for that yet. As Mayor Elmer E. Horsey notes, "We've got to have a store similar to McCrory's. We can't have a big hole like that in our town for very long."

Chestertown is one of the prettiest villages in Maryland, with a main street heading down to the Chester River, row after row of gorgeous Georgian and Victorian homes and a downtown so picturesque it was chosen as a backdrop for a TV miniseries. The burned-out block is like a scar on a pretty face. Until it's erased, the town runs the risk of losing its appeal as a tourist spot.

Along with the mayor, we hope McCrory's decides to rebuild. Unfortunately, the chain is in bankruptcy, and company officials are making no promises. Still, the city has nothing to lose by making it known just how badly it wants -- and needs -- the store back. The old five-and-dime has a place in the future as well as the past.

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