A Trip Down Memory Lane, Foster Street Edition

By: Rachel Yonkunas Email
By: Rachel Yonkunas Email

It was the proverbial 1950’s. Foster Street was full of eager minds and young ideas.

Frank Gaines has been in Dothan forever, as he put it. He took me back to a time more familiar.

“The big thing on Sunday was to go eat fried chicken at our house, walk over to Purity and go get an ice cream cone, and then go down to the Depot at Dixie and watch the trains come in,” said Gaines, of Gaines Photo Services.

It was an easy lifestyle, with the promise of prosperity, and that white noise lasted through the '60’s.

“In the '60’s, when we went shopping, we went to downtown Dothan on Foster Street,” said Wes Grant, Chairman of Dothan’s Historic Preservation Committee.

Downtown Dothan was in its prime, and when big name department stores fell into the mix, small things became desirable.

“One of the big items that happened in downtown Dothan was the Blumberg store when it got an escalator. Everybody had to come to Dothan to ride the escalator,” Gaines told me.

However, in the '70’s, a different big name drowned out that noise: Ross Clark Circle.

Gaines said, “It was once said that the traffic circle was like a choke collar on downtown Dothan.”

Businesses moved onto the circle, malls were built, and the bustling of Foster Street evaporated into a dull hum. By the '80’s, it was a gamble to visit those streets.

“It was pretty vacant. I think about 20 percent of the stores were here,” said Joseph Donofro, President of Donofro Architects. “I think the rest of it was all 80 percent unoccupied. That was the start.”

It was the start to years of empty shelves. Some businesses came and went; other buildings sat vacant for nearly a decade. Foster Street hit a stand-still.

“When you look 20, 30 years ago, most downtowns kind of disappeared because businesses wanted to move where all the residences were going which was the suburbs,” said Jill Williams of the Downtown Group.

For Gaines, he may never see our downtown as thriving as it used to be. However, he said there are plenty of new ideas, new designs, and new Sunday traditions to help foster growth on Foster Street.

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